By Rick Stein, Vice President of Fresh Foods, FMI 

Fresh ProductsSucceeding with fresh foods strategies is a lot easier if you have senior leaders championing efforts. That is one of my key takeaways from FMI’s recently completed FreshForward conference in Denver.  

Top leaders from three major retail organizations — The Giant Company, Albertsons and Hy-Vee — introduced key FreshForward educational tracks by relaying their passion for the business and imploring the industry to push fresh forward. Conference tracks focused on health and well-being, sustainability and collaborative partnerships.  

The clear message was that achieving meaningful fresh foods progress requires more than just doing the same old thing. Sometimes you need to head in new directions based on solid consumer insights and a good understanding of the industry.  

Making Fresh Top of Mind 

Nicholas Bertram, the Giant Company’s president at the time of FreshForward, emphasized the connection between fresh and health and well-being. “Freshness, health and well-being are top of mind in all that we do at The Giant Company,” he said. He outlined a wide array of company strategies aimed at driving health and well-being, in areas including Food as Medicine, healthy meals, food security and consumer education.   

Embracing Coopetition 

Randy Edeker, Hy-Vee’s chairman, said fresh foods companies need to become more comfortable partnering with organizations that may have been their competitors at times. This type of collaboration is needed to advance each partner and the industry overall, he added. “The very company you may partner with may be the one that in the past was working to disrupt you, or you were working to disrupt them,” Randy said. “But it's important to keep an open mind.” 

Driving Sustainability 

Susan Morris, Albertsons Companies’ executive vice president and chief operating officer, emphasized the importance of sustainability to her organization and the industry. She pointed to her company’s goals to reduce emissions and food waste and provided an example of how fresh foods links to sustainability and freshness. “We've improved the transparency of our seafood supply chain, helping to protect our oceans and providing fair and equitable treatment for the people whose livelihoods depend on them,” she said. 

Stepping Up to Challenges 

FreshForward is FMI’s annual gathering of senior retailers, wholesalers, suppliers and service providers in the fresh sector. Deloitte is our collaborative partner for the conference. 

This year’s edition was the first in-person opportunity in three years due to the pandemic. Attendees participate in breakout groups geared to developing action-oriented solutions. 

I am especially pleased that speakers urged attendees to take their fresh efforts to the next level. Here’s a challenge posed by Nick Bertram: “Fresh has a stigma of being too expensive and unapproachable. How can we break down those barriers and connect with customers so that fresh has a bigger part of their cart?”

This challenge is spot on for the goal of driving more success in fresh. In the near future you’ll be reading more about FreshForward insights and recommended action steps to overcome challenges. FMI and its members will work together to absorb the lessons of FreshForward and identify key success strategies for the industry.