By: Leslie Sarasin, President and CEO, FMI
Since 1927, TIME magazine has ended each year with a cover edition designed to spark debate and celebration. The “Person of the Year” edition has featured protesters, activists, presidents, astronauts, and even YOU in the form of our personal role in the information age. Well, in a year like 2020, I’m not sure who TIME will pick for the cover, but I know who I would choose.
My choice for TIME magazine’s “Person of the Year” for 2020 is the essential, frontline workers of the food industry. From the cashiers and stockers to the store managers and executives, the drivers and food processors and pharmacist and nutritionists, to the data analysts, delivery experts and farmers, our industry is filled with true Food Industry Heroes who have done so much more than just keep people fed this year.
The food industry keeps shoppers connected to material essentials, like bread and toilet paper, but the COVID-19 scenario reminded us more than ever that grocery stores also are a vital strand in the social fabric that holds us together in unsettling times. Beyond the deep cleaning, shelf replenishing and physical distancing tasks, a brighter light was cast upon the food industry. The intricate work of truck drivers, warehouse workers, dietitians, and sustainability engineers all found their way into this year’s news headlines as they demonstrated their continued resilience to meet unprecedented expectations. If nothing else, 2020 has offered a new perspective on how essential the grocery worker is to the function of society.
Every hero needs a sidekick—someone who swoops in to provide support, encouragement, additional resources, and a helping hand. As additional demands have been placed on the food industry in 2020, FMI has been proud to support the Food Industry Heroes in many ways:
Navigating Federal, State and Local Policies and Offering Timely Guidance
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic we held daily meetings with members and heard first-hand the issues facing them. We took those concerns forward and worked with federal and state agencies to smooth out the wrinkles in newly developed policies and provide clarification and advice for members. We worked hand in hand with the federal government to ensure food companies could do the important job of feeding Americans and we championed the expansion of federal food assistance programs to support those most in need. Our policy work continues as we tirelessly advocate for essential food industry workers.
Providing Information for Decision Making
FMI has always had our pulse on the consumer, but we saw years of grocery shopping trends flip overnight. Our research quickly adapted so we could inform members about changing grocery shopping habits and what that meant to business strategies. We continued regular tracking of grocery shopper trends throughout the year and plan to do so into the new year. Having reliable consumer and operational research is critical during these changing times.
In addition to research, our educational programing adapted to virtual learning with expanded on-demand options and dedicated topic events that allowed our members to focus on learning and networking from the safety of their home offices. We will continue to provide world-class instruction for the food industry on-demand, online and wherever our members need it.
Creating a Nimble Supply Chain
Yes, our food supply chain is nimble, but to maintain that agility trading partners need ample time for planning, discussion and coordination. At FMI we have shifted our events portfolio to better address this need by offering manufacturer and retailer meeting opportunities at least every six months. These business strategy meetings are paramount and ensure a supply chain that keeps the shelves stocked and Americans calm.
There are lessons to be learned from 2020 and new dynamics that the food industry will take into 2021 and years beyond. Regardless of the ups and downs, it has been an honor to serve the food industry, and FMI remains committed to the great men and women who each and every day can call themselves Food Industry Heroes.