By Rick Stein, Vice President of Fresh, FMI  

I’ve been grocery shopping in stores throughout the pandemic, mask and all. I found that meat departments didn’t always have exactly what I wanted, but I typically bought something. I saw a de-emphasis of certain self-service sections, and an increased focus on packaging, including for sliced deli meats and produce. Store clerks regularly cleaned and sanitized in full view of appreciative customers.  


Now I feel we’re entering a new phase. While the pandemic isn’t over, the country is opening up, and consumers are relaying increased confidence about shopping and safety.  This period provides an opportunity to get a 360 view of where we’ve been, how much has changed, and what lies ahead. I consider this very important in my role as FMI’s fresh foods leader.

It’s a central goal of this year’s FMI FreshForward, the annual industry conference, set for August 18 to 20. This event, developed with our partner Deloitte, features a dynamic roster of experts covering multiple angles. Fresh will be viewed through a wide lens. We have made the decision to proceed virtually this year, in light of company travel restrictions due to the pandemic. 

I want to communicate some of the key session topics and speakers, who I know will make sense of all the insights for fresh foods and retail.  

CEO Perspective

We are fortunate to have three top retail CEOs to introduce our key topics — one per day. These will be: 

  • Consumers and Fresh: Vivek Sankaran, President and CEO, Albertsons Companies
  • Fresh Supply Chain: Rodney McMullen, Chairman and CEO, The Kroger Co.
  • Sustainability/Packaging/Food Waste: Kevin Holt, CEO, Ahold Delhaize USA 
Economic Outlook

We’ll hear a timely outlook on the economy from Dr. Patricia Buckley, Deloitte’s Managing Director for Economics. She will provide an overview of potential scenarios for the coming months, relevant policy considerations, and high-level recommendations on what retailers and suppliers should be considering. 

Confidence in Fresh

Susan Schwallie, The NPD Group’s Executive Director, Client Development, will address opportunities to boost consumer confidence in retail foodservice, including in areas such as hot bars and salad bars. These parts of retail were challenged because of contagion fears.  

Rethinking Health

Ujwal Arkalgud, CEO of MotivBase, will bring a unique take to the topic of health and well-being. Arkalgud, an award-winning cultural anthropologist, will explain the new directions based on his organization’s big data ethnographic research. 

Supply Chain Assessments

The conference will hear from fresh industry leaders, including Smithfield Foods and C.H. Robinson, about how fresh supply chains can be improved. Brian Baker, Managing Director of Deloitte’s Retail and Consumer Goods Practice, will bring a high-level view to this topic, with a focus on the benefits of technology and collaboration.  

Packaging and Sustainability

Chris Foote, Sustainability Coordinator, Wegmans Food Markets, will relay new dynamics for packaging and sustainability. There appears to be a tug of war between these two topics in the wake of the pandemic.  

Financial Analyst Perspective

I’m especially looking forward to the closing panel of financial analysts. These experts are known for crystalizing the key opportunities and challenges facing food retail. They will offer their outlooks at a time when the retail and fresh sectors are at a critical juncture. 

I’m excited about these and other FreshForward presentations, and about the interactive nature of the event. Presentations will be followed by audience breakout discussions, in which attendees exchange perspectives on key action steps for the industry. The resulting insights are eventually consolidated into a post-event report from Deloitte.  

I urge fresh industry leaders to attend FreshForward and actively participate. This time, more than ever, we need all hands-on deck to guide the industry’s future.