By Rick Stein, Vice President of Fresh, FMI

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The pandemic has squeezed the supplies of many things—from toilet paper to hand sanitizer.

However, some things have been plentiful. One of these is webinars. The food retail community has been fortunate to have so many opportunities to watch and listen to insightful presentations. These have kept us informed during an incredibly challenging time.

Nevertheless, I’m ready for something more. In the fresh industry, my area of focus at FMI, we need an opportunity not only to listen and learn, but also to converse, collaborate and plan action steps together. The need is great because the pandemic has scrambled so many of the traditional fresh industry story lines.

This year’s FMI FreshForward, set for August 18 to 20, is an interactive event. Developed in concert with Deloitte, FreshForward is built around senior leadership discussions on crucial fresh food topics.

We have made the decision to proceed virtually this year, in light of company travel restrictions due to the pandemic. However, the conference format will resemble that of prior years, with an emphasis on thought leadership, interactivity and collaboration. This will be made possible by the unique virtual platform we have chosen.

For each subject addressed, attendees will hear expert thought leadership, discuss and debate implications, and then offer their own opinions on next steps for the industry, enabled by the collaborative, virtual platform. All of this will lead to a post-conference wrap-up report on key insights and action steps, produced by Deloitte.  

The third annual installment of FreshForward will spotlight three top-of-mind subjects for fresh industry leaders:

  1. The Consumer Transformed
  2. Lessons for the Fresh Supply Chain
  3. New Era for Packaging and Sustainability

The Consumer Transformed will take the pulse of fresh shoppers and address their quickly changing needs. We’ll explore many important questions. For example, how can retailers boost confidence in fresh departments—including foodservice, hot foods and salad bars—in the wake of the pandemic? How can the industry ensure that fresh solutions will be relevant for the shifting health and wellness needs of shoppers?

Lessons for the Fresh Supply Chain will assess which supply chain aspects worked well during the global crisis, and which need enhancements. What are key takeaways for categories from produce to meat? How can collaboration and technology improve fresh supply chain outcomes? What is the role for predictive analytics?

New Era for Packaging and Sustainability will spotlight the changing roles for packaging during this crisis. Consumers concerned about contagions prioritized safety over sustainability. They embraced packaged products, despite a long-running sustainability debate over plastic packaging. Are we now expecting a tug of war between safety and sustainability? How can retail leaders address seemingly conflicting imperatives? What will be the future role of packaging in food waste reduction?

You’ll notice I included a lot of question marks in my topic descriptions. That was intentional, because unless we know the most important questions, we can’t collaborate on finding the answers. FreshForward is the place to debate these questions and come up with relevant answers and strategies.

I hope you’ll agree that after months of being forced to react to events, the food industry has a unique opening to collaborate on its future. FreshForward is the fresh industry’s place to do this. I hope you’ll join us for this opportunity, and encourage colleagues and partners to join as well.