By Rick Stein, Vice President, Fresh Foods, FMI

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Fresh food executives have very good instincts about their businesses, but they also need to rely on more than just that.

In quickly changing times leaders need to understand how their business performance and plans compare with those of competitors. They need as much visibility as possible on what’s ahead for shopper behaviors and the industry at large.

FMI’s upcoming FreshForward Conference, scheduled for August 8 to 10 in Denver, will help executives understand today, tomorrow and the future for fresh foods. Let’s take a brief look at how to get a better handle on each of these aspects.

Understanding Today Through Benchmarking

FMI’s president and CEO Leslie Sarasin, will open FreshForward with a presentation on the 2023 State of Fresh Foods, based on our extensive surveying of the industry. Sarasin will relay the latest fresh benchmarking results, which include details on share of sales, space and labor allocation, workforce issues and shrink.

In last year’s research, we learned, that meat and produce led other perishables areas in terms of average share of store sales by fresh department and that an average of 40% of a food retailers’ dollars in total online sales were generated from fresh departments.

This year we’ll get updates on all the key benchmarks and some new ones. It’s important to compare individual business results against industry-wide numbers to ensure leaders are viewing the big picture.

Planning for Tomorrow with Action Steps

What can we expect to see from the fresh industry in the near term? Companies are relaying their plans for tomorrow in response to FMI’s survey. Last year we learned that most food retailers were planning to increase the space they allocated to foodservice aspects such as fresh-prepared grab-and-go options. We also learned that some were planning to increase labor allocation in areas such as foodservice and specialty help by department.

I’d like to know what the industry has in store this time around, especially given ongoing inflation, compressed margins, and labor availability challenges.

Forecasting The Future Through expert Insights

Getting a handle on the longer-term future is always the most challenging aspect. Nevertheless, it’s crucial to understand what lies ahead for the economy, the industry, competition, consumer behaviors and fresh foods. FMI’s closing panel at FreshForward will tackle this big subject by bringing together speakers including the chief futurist for Deloitte and the chief economist for Numerator. Panelists will paint a picture of where trends are headed and how the fresh industry can prepare. The conversation will be guided by moderator Mark Baum, FMI’s chief collaboration officer and senior vice president for industry relations.

I’m especially interested to hear what to expect from foodservice competition between retail and restaurants. It would be great to get more visibility on what’s ahead.

Making Progress with Collaboration

FreshForward will also spotlight three other highly important topics for fresh foods: ecommerce, meal planning, and Gen Z. We’ll explore these subjects in presentations and facilitated breakout groups of attendees. The conference is designed to foster collaborative discussions between senior-level retailers, suppliers, and service providers.

I look forward to seeing you at FreshForward so we can all help drive industry progress for today, tomorrow and the future.

Register for FreshForward