By: Steve Markenson, Director, Research, Food Marketing Institute
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Last week, FMI released the 68th annual edition of The Food Retailing Industry Speaks (Speaks) report. For many years, a prominent feature of our Speaks research has been what we called the Worry Index. This was FMI’s way of looking at a set of macro and micro issues to understand how much they impact food retailers’ ability to generate sales and profits. This Worry Index provided a list of what retailers were most concerned about. However, this year, in analyzing the data from the questions that historically shaped the Worry Index, we found that there were as many factors that contributed positively to sales and profits as there were factors negatively impacting the bottom line. Consequently, in a decided to move to the more positive – we renamed the Worry Index the Food Retail Pulse. We hope you detect the more encouraging note of this move as it is a recurring theme in this year’s Speaks findings.

Below is a chart showing the Food Retail Pulse findings. On the left you will see the concerns column – those items that negatively impact sales and profits. In this list, you encounter some familiar faces that have been areas of concern for years. The list is again led by the cost of health care benefits, next you’ll find interchange fees and energy costs. Competition continues to impact sales and profits, though from slightly different sources than experienced in previous years. Competition from traditional food retailers was cited most often, followed closely by competition from non-traditional food retailers (not online) and online sales. Personnel issues round out the top concerns with a focus on wage pressure (including minimum wage and bonuses) and being able to attract and retain quality employees. 

Food Retail Pulse Image

Moving over to the right, we find the more positive opportunities list, which contains a number of issues with quite optimistic forecasts. Food retailers continue to see the benefits in a health and wellness proposition, and relatedly, the food as medicine trend, and consumers’ changing ways of consumption. Two new areas emerged in 2018 to have a positive impact - the local and national economy and shoppers demand for transparency also emerged as having a positive impact on responding companies.

Learn more from FMI’s CEO Leslie Sarasin by listening to her unveil this year’s study during a webinar broadcasted on October 4th that is now available at The Speaks report is also available for download from the FMI store at