An appetite for change

FMI President and CEO Leslie Sarasin.

My childhood memories of holiday meal time are flooded with both favorite foods and frequent phrases. For instance, at holiday gatherings, amid the familiar smells of traditional dishes being prepared, I would often hear a relative utter the phrase, “I need to work up my appetite.” Knowing adults generally did not speak favorably of work, the younger me found the saying a bit confusing. Why would anyone purposely engage in an activity he didn’t want to do, just to become hungry? But as my years and palette have grown, I have come to appreciate the sentiment of wanting to do something that puts mind, body and spirit in a better disposition to enjoy the banquet placed before me. Food just tastes better when we are hungry, verified by the fact that our word appetite comes from the Latin root appetere, meaning desire or to long for something. The human experience of everything, including food, is heightened when accompanied by a yearning for it.

These days, I seem unable to have a single work-related conversation that doesn’t include the word “change.” We talk about the amount of it, the speed of it, the cost of it, and the never ending magnitude of it. We discuss its causes and how to avoid being its victim. While these are all worthy conversations, given the inevitability of change, perhaps our time would be better spent talking about developing an appetite for it. Rather than resist it, perhaps we should try another tactic. For example, the Jujitsu school of martial arts takes a unique approach to self-defense. Jujitsu teaches that when an attacker approaches, rather than resisting the force, one should instead use the attacker’s energy to advantage by redirecting it slightly and in so doing, throw the attacker off balance. When it comes to change, perhaps food retailers are better served by taking a Jujitsu approach of not resisting it, but anticipating its approach and using its momentum to our advantage.

The emerging issues work that FMI has undertaken has identified five areas we anticipate will have a tremendous impact on the food retail industry in the next few years: the new consumerism, the new marketplace, the new workforce, artificial Intelligence/technology, and food production. The areas might be listed individually and sequentially, but all of them must be understood as intimately interrelated – think of a rope with interwoven strands rather than a food chain with individual links. Any one of the five areas influences and affects the remaining four. For instance, technology is changing the way consumers shop, the way the marketplace operates, the needs of the new workforce and the way food is being produced. The grocery shopping preferences of the new information-craving, personalization-demanding consumer are forcing us to rethink the marketplace, improve the way food is produced, reconsider the methods used to gather and use data, and reshape the way store teams interface with the public.

At FMI’s Midwinter Executive Conference, to be held January 26-29 in Miami, we will address these challenging areas from a variety of perspectives, but all with an attitude of developing an appetite for change. Top thought leaders and industry analysts will draw upon recent research, consumer trends and the latest technological developments to cover such critical areas as developing talent, applying artificial intelligence to business strategies, identifying consumers’ desires for fresh departments, and meeting the demand for local products and global tastes. These wide-ranging topics will be examined by some of the best minds in the industry, but the glory of the Midwinter setting is that the concepts presented can then be more deeply explored in casual social settings by some of the best practitioners in the industry. Or as one member put it, “I get to hear the latest, but then get out of the clouds and into the weeds with colleagues.”

I hope to hear your voice as part of the industry conversation about the ways emerging issues are challenging food retail. Together, we can develop an appetite for change and learn to divert and convert the energy of these challenges into workable assets and opportunities for the new food retail marketplace. 

Leslie Sarasin is President and CEO of the Food Marketing Institute.