By: Leslie Sarasin, President and CEO, FMI 

State of the Industry 2021COVID-19 has changed our world; it’s changed the way we work, the way we socialize, the way we engage in commerce, and the way we live our lives.  As many have observed, there simply is no going back to the normal we knew before the pandemic. We’ve changed; the world has changed; and we can’t expect to return to an environment exactly like we had previously.  

Our industry kept pace with the accelerated change COVID-19 cast our way and the industry and American families are in a much better place because of these extraordinary efforts than they would’ve been without them.  We proved to be unexpectedly facile, adapting to conflicting directives and unclear guidelines to keep our customers and associates safe to allow us to continue feeding families and enriching lives.  

Change may continue being foisted upon us, but that doesn’t mean we’re relegated to sitting by passively and letting the next normal emerge around us.  We in this industry are uniquely positioned to help write this new narrative going forward.  We can help shape the next normal and make it better than our previous normal, and in so doing, play a role in helping heal our families, communities, and the world at large, making them stronger than they were before.

At our 2021 Midwinter Executive Conference, I addressed how the food industry can write the next normal post-COVID-19: 

By being recognized community leaders

We must remain vigilant with our safety precautions and disciplined in maintaining pandemic control measures.  And it means continuing to do what your companies do so well -- taking care of those in our communities who require extra support for their families. For those of you with pharmacies and healthcare facilities, that includes being a vital leader in the race to administer the COVID vaccine as safely and efficiently as possible to all, including our trusted supplier partners.  For all of us, it means serving as health and well-being destinations for our customers – for nutritious food, dietary supplements and household supplies -- until the vaccine is available.

When we look back on this period of pandemic challenges and name those things that helped us get through this trying time, I expect food and family will be at or near the top of everyone’s list.  And the lessons learned, and new habits formed, during this time will continue to inform shopping patterns and behaviors.  Home cooking will remain a strong trend because people have learned firsthand that it just makes more sense economically, emotionally and nutritionally.  We’ll be there to support the industry on where consumer attitudes are headed and what we must be mindful of.  

By establishing stronger bonds between and among trading partners & creating honest conversation

Creating a better next normal will require some honest conversations.  Whether they are between trading partners in producing a more efficient supply chain, among internal management on identifying deficiencies and strengths, or between employers and employees regarding diversity inclusion and equity, FMI sees its role as creating the safe environment for these reflective conversations to take place, for company benchmarking and for the development of best practices in a constructive, forward-facing fashion.

We must work now to establish the necessary collaborations that will enable us to act more decisively, communicate more clearly and be better prepared with options when panic buying occurs and we see product outages or other additional needs on the horizon. And this more candid approach to supply chain management includes improved communication with consumers as well regarding the realities of the supply chain. If shoppers better understand how the system works, they will be better equipped to accept any interventions retailers and suppliers are forced to implement when consumer behaviors or purchasing patterns create unnecessary outages.

By simply not being afraid of greatness if we wish to shape a better next normal 

In his play Twelfth Night, Shakespeare offers his now familiar observation that greatness may come naturally to some, may be obtained by others through hard work, and may even be circumstantially forced upon others. These insights are profound, but we should remember the way he introduces his consideration of this subject. Shakespeare prefaces his thoughts on greatness with the gentle warning,” Be not afraid of greatness.” COVID-19 has challenged us, but it has also provided us with an opportunity to show our mettle, and we’ve done extraordinarily well; but to shape a better normal going forward, we must do even better. We must not be afraid of being great.

As we head together into this new day, FMI will redouble its efforts to provide you and the industry with the reliable food safety information, the respected research and the trustworthy resources needed to set our path forward, to make the impactful daily decisions, and to quickly determine any required course corrections.

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