By Heather Garlich, Vice President, Media and Public Relations, Food Marketing InstituteVoice of Food Retail

In Washington, DC, when you meet someone for the first time, you often start the conversation by asking, “What do you do?” Visitors from outside the Washington Metro area might find this greeting  cold, but DC is the ultimate networking city, so it’s a compliment to find those six degrees of separation between yourself and a stranger. Your network and personal story only grow stronger the more times you tell it and the more connections you make.

FMI’s brand story was particularly prolific this year and our influence extended far beyond the Nation’s Capital. As one area of measurement, we reached a historic high for media mentions, effectively driving our own narrative on the issues that matter most to the food retailing industry. Our communications strategy yielded highlights worthy of mention:

  • Consumer insights fueled our coverage and messaging. The team devised a multi-pronged approach to double our engagement rate for U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends and U.S. Food Retailing Industry Speaks, in addition to supporting research studies across fresh, private brands, health and wellness and topics like loyalty and transparency.

  • We made some new predictions on the emerging marketplace and the rise of the digital shopper with our partners at Nielsen. Our projection that in as few as five to seven years, 70 percent of consumers will be grocery shopping online resonated with more than 700 media mentions and more often accompanied significant analysis of FMI members’ omnichannel strategies to meet the shoppers’ needs.

  • We reached the conclusion to a seven-year dialog regarding a chain restaurant menu labeling rule, which drove public affairs conversations in the Spring. We were able to demonstrate all the ways in which our members were communicating nutrition information to their customers and offered operational advice via our digital channels on how our members can comply with the rule deadline.

  • The topic of articulating clear messages to the shopper drove significant coverage for FMI and its partners, as evidenced by our campaigns with the Center for Food Integrity and research partners at Label Insight. Our most significant effort aimed at furthering consumers’ desire to have a closer connection to their food revealed itself through our national consumer education campaign regarding SmartLabel®. As a cornerstone to the campaign, FMI and its partners at the Grocery Manufacturers Association worked a popular YouTube influencer family to extol the benefits of leveraging a technology like SmartLabel. Components to the public relations effort included:

    • Consumer research to support consumer usage of SmartLabel during the campaign, leveraging the national survey results in our multimedia campaign as both infographics and messaging.

    • A multimedia press release garnered 235 hits and 81.4 million impressions, featuring the influencer video and research.

    • A partnership with the National Consumers League (NCL), featuring the organization’s executive director in a Satellite Media Tour, booking interviews with 20 TV broadcast networks (audience of 5M), three radio interviews (audience of 16.5M), one online interview and one TV soundbite package with an online audience of 18M. NCL also complemented our strategy with a speaking engagement and blog post summarizing the research.

    • Finally, we produced syndicated content on five things consumers didn’t know about their groceries – but they could know – earning us well over 3,600 website and newspaper hits and 1.2M impressions.

    • SmartLabel app downloads doubled around the time of the campaign.

Our organization’s proactive public relations efforts reinforced the importance of owning one’s narrative during the turbulent times, such as navigating food safety recalls, natural disasters and challenges to food retail practices or operations.

So, what’s my response when a new acquaintance asks me what I do? I say I support the storylines among our nation’s food retailers and the greater supply chain.

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