By Leslie Sarasin, President and CEO, FMITop Women in Grocery

It’s not often you get to celebrate a 100-year anniversary, but this past weekend I had the opportunity to salute my colleagues at the Western Association of Food Chains (WAFC) who are marking their Centennial year. Back in 1921, (on the heels of the Spanish Flu global pandemic, I might mention) a group of forward-thinking Los Angeles grocers gathered and saw the value of helping their grocery workers obtain education to be more successful in their businesses. The group formed WAFC, which throughout the years has advocated and innovated to provide education opportunities that enable food industry associates to become effective leaders in the industry. Today, that original band of Los Angeles grocers spans 14 states across the Western United States, all focused on a mission to attract, retain, and provide a path forward for high-potential food industry associates through education and leadership programs.

At the invitation of Chief Operations Officer Carole Christianson, I (virtually) addressed the WAFC Board of Directors and was happy to see many colleagues and FMI members who are making a difference in educating and preparing our workforce. Today’s food industry workforce faces some unique challenges and we at FMI are working to provide solutions, including by developing research insights on the COVID-19-induced shift to at-home meals; establishing a partnership with the Center for Food Integrity to address Racial Justice, Inclusion and Diversity in the food industry; and addressing the challenge of crisis management and de-escalation initiatives in the retail environment since grocery stores sit front and center in their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

FMI and WAFC both identify workforce development as critical to ensuring the industry maintains thriving and prepared employees. For that reason, we work together to promote talent development initiatives vis-à-vis the community college-based Retail Management Certificate Program (RMCP). FMI has partnered with WAFC to expand the program nationally and collaborates with WAFC to facilitate a national advisory group of retailers who participate in the RMCP program. Retention of employees is key, and the Retail Management Certificate Program offers a pathway and the critical skills for advancement of grocery workers. For more information on RMCP, please contact Cynthia Brazzel, FMI’s Director of Member Relations and Advocacy.

FMI salutes WAFC and its commitment to an exceptional grocery workforce. Congratulations on your Centennial!