By: Dan Ratner, Senior Director, Member Services, FMI 

Picture89I found it refreshing to read David Orgel’s recent article How to Be Ready for Anything in 2021 in Drug Store News. It isn’t so much a piece about predictions and resolutions for a new year. It’s more of a preparedness “how-to” for retailers as they emerge from a pandemic into an era that is likely to be a bit erratic and filled with more changes and likely some surprises.

The five directions Orgel proposes correlate so closely to what FMI has propagated throughout 2020 that I wanted to share and highlight those activities here. He says, 

1. Don’t skimp on investments

Here Orgel says, “It’s not always easy to justify investments, but retailers need to assess the risk of not taking action…” and he mentions the areas of supply chain, technology, and in-store experience. 

FMI has most notably supported these areas through our work on behalf of the food industry to optimize the supply chainmeet the technological demands of consumers, and make adjustments to in-store operations to ensure a safe shopping environment.

2. Step Up Consumer Insights

Orgel states, “When change often happens faster than research can keep up, it’s important to experiment by turning insights into action quickly.”

Instead of an annual report of consumer trends, FMI made the bold decision to provide weekly reports of consumer trends shortly after the pandemic began. This helped inform the massive shifts in consumer behavior and perceptions as the pandemic took hold and lingered indefinitely. The recent release of our Food Retailing Industry Speaks 2020 study and U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends 2020 will guide food retailers and product suppliers throughout 2021. 

3. Keep Employees Engaged

When he said, “Retailers need to focus on engagement and training for associates across their enterprises,” it made me think of our Store Directors Virtual Group webinar series presented by Harold Lloyd. The series hit on some of the most relevant needs of retailers including time management, internal communications, morale, and others. In addition, FMI’s webinar on de-escalation at the store level appeared at just the right moment to provide professional development for store managers and associates dealing with conflict within their stores.

4. Let Data Be Your Guide

Orgel reiterates, “The growing availability of all kinds of data brings unique opportunities to make progress.” He also mentions, FMI’s partnership with the Center for Advancing Retail and Technology (CART) in developing a white paper. This partnership has expanded to include nine companies to develop the FMItech – TechTalk Series to keep the data flowing into the industry as the marketplace becomes more innovative. 

It’s important to also mention the nimble efforts of the FMI team to curate and distribute best practices and solutions “on-the-fly” in the early stages of the pandemic to ensure retailers, wholesalers, and product suppliers remained on the leading edge of procedure.

5. Get Innovative About Partnerships

He shares a quote from another article of his where he says, “Success in navigating a crisis relies on being closely in touch with suppliers, government and a wide range of industry partners. This is not a time to be worried about over-communicating.”

FMI leadership and staff were not shy in reaching out and marshalling resources through partnerships. FMI worked with to launch an online talent exchange so food industry companies that were in critical need of staffing up throughout the crisis could connect with candidates with retail experience. FMI also partnered with SAP to launch the FMI Jam Online COVID-19 Community to connect members with each other around issues like worker safety, operations, supply chain, and workforce. The Food Industry Exchange was introduced early in the pandemic by FMI working with SEAM to help identify sources of product that were going unused in the shutdown food service sector.

Not to mention the significant work that the FMI Government Relations team has done on the federal, state, and local levels around designating food industry workers as essentialestablishing waivers for supply chain truck driversSNAP waivers and adjustments, and coin shortage remediation. The GR team is already hard at work on 2021 initiatives that will likely have an impact on your businesses. 

Orgel concludes that “retailers will do well to be prepared for a range of eventualities.” As you and your business venture into the unknown of 2021, rest assured FMI is ready to support you and lead the food industry through whatever it encounters in the new year.

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