By Leslie Sarasin, President and CEO, Food Marketing InstituteLGS

One of life’s most fundamental lessons in strategy probably came when we learned the traps and tricks of the childhood game tic-tac-toe. Who doesn’t remember a mournful defeat suffered because we were so eagerly aligning “X’s” in a winning posture that we forgot to protect ourselves from those pesky “O’s?” The lesson of giving balanced attention to both offense and defense likely had to be adapted and re-learned as our games grew in complexity - from tic-tac-toe to checkers to chess and beyond. And even now as we face the intrigues of succeeding in business, we find we still must contend with monitoring our desire to move forward with our need to defend what we’ve achieved. We still are learning how to juggle offense and defense, ensuring that the zeal of winning and the fear of losing does not blind us, resulting in an over-focus on one, to the detriment of the other.

There is industry consensus that the past decade has been fraught with the challenge of unparalleled change. The trials have come from the outside, the inside and the wayside, taking on the diverse forms of an ever-expanding field of competitors, the trials of consolidation, and the new tech-informed approaches to retail that challenge the way we’ve always done it.

FMI’s research points to the fact that food retail is relearning the offense-defense balance, recalibrating its strategy and successfully adjusting to the new normal of a faster pace, constant change and the need to try new things, fail fast and adapt.

What is true for the industry is reflected in the life of its trade association. 2018 has been a year of the need for FMI to pay attention to where we plot our X’s while carefully watching out for those sneaky O’s.

On the advocacy front we’ve defended member companies in menu labeling compliance, protected confidential store-level data and sought to safeguard the integrity of SNAP. At the same time, we’ve aggressively sought a ban on EBT processing fees and enhanced our ability to address pharmacy issues.

This year, the words romaine lettuce echo eerily throughout the halls of food safety, serving as a stark reminder of our need to defensively have structures in place to prevent food-borne illness and to offensively remind the governmental safety net of its role and responsibility to ensure nation-wide food safety.

Our Unified Voice Protocol pilot project in 2018 provided important consumer information to our members struggling with the activist pressure to make or honor commitments about cage-free eggs and slow-growth broilers. Now, Unified Voice is turning its attention to gene editing and the implications this new technology has for food production, along with the challenges of consumer acceptance it might face.

FMI’s identification of five emerging issues- new consumerism, Artificial Intelligence and technology, new marketplace, workforce and food production - is informing our work in numerous ways. From influencing the core syllabus of our revamped Future Leaders curriculum to informing the prioritized values of our new strategic plan, keeping our eyes on the emerging issues horizon will ensure our ability to better respond to the rapidly evolving needs of our members.

In a world that readily recognizes that collaboration is key, FMI provided you diverse opportunities in 2018 to connect with industry colleagues, co-operate with trading partners and make meaningful contact with the external experts you need to execute your company’s vision.

In short, the past decades have reinforced the profundity of William Hazlitt’s observation: “Prosperity is a great teacher; adversity a greater.” And 2018 has certainly been full of tactical reminders for our tic-tac-toe lesson in strategy; know when to play aggressive offense, be ever-mindful of your defense and don’t get too comfortable with either.

Over the next few weeks, FMI will be posting blogs offering learnings from 20 different operational perspectives. Think of them as 20 ways we’ve learned we must play creative offense and solid defense on your behalf.