By: Cynthia Brazzel, Senior Director of Member Relations & Advocacy, Western Region, FMI

Maybe it’s like Fred Rogers said, “Often when you think you're at the end of something, you're at the beginning of something else.”

About 100 Western Michigan University (WMU) junior and senior food marketing students together with their faculty celebrated a successful 56th Food Marketing Conference in Grand Rapids, MI this past week. The annual event brought together around 700 people from the food industry introducing WMU food and consumer package goods marketing students to prospective employers and providing attendees a front-row seat to hear insights from what food industry leaders have experienced during the pandemic. What they took away was the resiliency needed to face any crisis, how to pause and pivot, and the tremendous value of the grocery workforce through this time.

As part of the CEO Forum, FMI’s President and CEO Leslie Sarasin led a conversation with three industry leaders whose combined experience in the food industry totals almost 100 years. In a panel entitled Reimagining the Marketplace: Embracing Change and Transformation, Leslie talked with Brandon Barnholt, president and CEO of KeHE Food Distributors, Rick Keyes, president and CEO of Meijer Inc., and Jim Snee, chairman, president and CEO of Hormel gleaning their learnings and delving into the personal nature this pandemic has brought to light on employer relationships. This wasn’t about go-to-market strategies, statistics, or trends but instead about the impact of what we learned during these past two years.

The responses were candid, personal and covered the gamut. Mr. Barnholt remarked that it really is the people in the food industry who drive our success as evidenced by their commitment during this time. Mr. Keyes said we were validated about the power and our purpose of our industry to serve communities during such a challenging time, and we learned how important communication is not just with our shoppers but also with our employees—not overpromising but being transparent and telling them what you know, when you know it. Mr. Snee brought to the table the important topic of mental health, with a reminder that many workers have been on the frontline and are weary and others have been in isolation and are re-emerging. As employers, it is critical to provide resources and care to employees.

After listening to the discussion, I’ll bet the WMU students would agree these leaders love what they’re doing and in keeping with Mr. Rogers wisdom, “The thing I remember best about successful people I’ve met all through the years is their obvious delight in what they’re doing and it seems to have very little to do with worldly success. They just love what they’re doing, and they love it in front of others.”