Joined At the Border
The last two U.S. Congresses have the dubious honor of being the least productive in modern history. With gridlock at the federal level showing no signs of abating, advocates of all stripes are now looking to the states, and even cities, to get their policies implemented.
The entire business community has felt the impact of this increased state and local activity, and the food retail industry is no exception. FMI tracks the top six local issues and nearly 100 issues at the state level, and in those issue areas alone last year, we saw 4,603 bills introduced. However, this year, the states will blow by those figures, with more than 5,000 bills introduced since Jan. 1 in the issue areas we monitor.
While FMI's state government relations staff works with our member companies to manage the wide range of state public policy challenges that impact the food industry, we could not do it alone. FMI depends on the collaboration of state associations across the country to help advance the industry's priorities at the state level.
When it comes to advocacy, even the most robust legislative tracking system is no replacement for boots on the ground. Ninety-six state and regional organizations representing the food and retailing industries provide those boots. These state associations are actively lobbying at their respective state capitols. When called upon, FMI works to provide resources and support to these state associations.
Before the start of each legislative session FMI holds a series of meetings across the country. Attendees are FMI members and state association executives. Together, we identify and prioritize important issues and trends at both the state and regional level.
A recent example of FMI-state association collaboration in action was the effort to enable food stores in Tennessee to sell wine. FMI assisted the Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Stores Association (TGCSA) in creating a website that enabled Tennessee residents who wanted to get involved to send letters to their state legislators. This website became the grassroots portal for the highly successful "Red, White and Food" campaign led by TGCSA. FMI additionally commissioned a national study that examined the many economic benefits of allowing food stores to sell wine in restricted states – such as new job creation, additional wages and increased revenue at all levels of government. The FMI Wine Study played a key role in the multiyear grassroots and lobbying campaign spearheaded by TGCSA.
All of this hard work paid off in 2014 when the Tennessee legislature voted to allow localities to approve wine sales in grocery stores by referendum. Wine in grocery stores passed in all 78 municipalities that held referendums.
The voice of food retail resonates best when we work together to strategically address issues of concern and collectively leverage our spheres of influence. As demonstrated by the 96 pairs of boots on the ground, grassroots is powerful when you share a common goal.
Supermarket Executives Convene in Washington
FMI's annual Day in Washington fly-in brings hundreds of grocery executives to Capitol Hill where they meet with their congressional representatives to highlight industry priorities and educate lawmakers on how policy decisions could affect their businesses. The April fly-in event was held in partnership with the National Grocers Association and the Food Industry Association Executives and features remarks from prominent policymakers.
The 2015 Day in Washington fly-in covered several priority industry issues:
Every industry and business is unique, which is why it is so important that food retailers share their stories with lawmakers to identify areas where our industry can find solutions and common ground, regardless of political ideology.
For more information related to FMI's position on these business imperatives, visit www.fmi.org/government-affairs
Vice President of State Government Relations & Grassroots,
Food Marketing Institute