Telling your Story to Congress

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Telling your Story to Congress

By Jennifer Hatcher - 05/15/2014

Members of Congress are inundated with information – written pieces, conference calls and "one-on-one" or "group-on-one" constituent meetings. On average, they hear pitches on 20 different issues per day.

FMI Board member Stephanie Skylar, President and CEO, Chief Super Market, recently invited her member of Congress, Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH-5), to one of her stores to highlight one of the industry's priority policy issues. Skylar highlighted nutrition labeling with Rep. Latta and discussed the obstacles of implementing menu labeling if the Food and Drug Administration expands the scope of its restaurant menu labeling regulations to include grocery stores when the agency releases its final rule later this year.

But, we know the very best way to have an impact is to tell your story and make it memorable. Trust that you have a great subject that resonates. Everyone loves food, and you would be hard pressed to find a member of Congress who has not been to a grocery store within the last week or two.

Use the fact that everyone loves a good story that rings true with our own experience to bring your written talking points to life. For instance, with regard to country of origin labeling, as an industry we have a 97 percent compliance rate in spite of the fact that 25 percent, or roughly 8,000, of our retail stores were audited in 2012. But those numbers have an added punch when we relate that we have that near perfect score in spite of the fact that most every inspector, when they arrive at the store, makes a beeline for the banana display, where inevitably a customer has just broken off three bananas from the labeled bunch of six, now creating an unlabeled bunch of bananas in a product that always comes from outside of the U.S.

Here's another example of how to tangibly illustrate your point. A few years ago, the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) attempted to put one-size-fits-all guidance in place that would have prevented cashiers from lifting more than 15 pounds. This would have effectively prevented stores from selling certain items of a bulk variety even if precautions were taken to prevent injury of the associate. We visually captured this scenario by delivering 20-pound turkeys to every U.S. Senate office with an explanation of how the sale of these turkeys would be outlawed under the OSHA proposal.

I urge you to think creatively of ways to paint a picture of the problems that menu labeling requirements for unpackaged items at grocery stores without menus will create. Just how much writing can you fit on a toothpick?!!

There is no better place for you to tell your story than in your own setting where you can demonstrate your points and make the issues crystal clear. Inviting your member of Congress to your store or distribution center or manufacturing facility enables you to help them not just hear your words, but see and experience your position. There is no way a member of Congress can come away from your banana ripening room without gaining in appreciation for what you do to get your customers the products they want, when they want them and in the safest, tastiest and most inexpensive way possible.

As an added incentive for you to tell your story to members of Congress, FMI is running a contest. If you invite your member of Congress to your store or facility and take a picture with them in the store as you bring these issues to life, we will send you or your store manager a U.S. flag that has been flown over the United States Capitol. If you send the best photo, as determined by our distinguished panel of judges, you also will get a "free" registration to FMI Midwinter 2015 in Miami, Fla.

When you are at FMI Connect in June, stop by the FMI Solutions center and participate in our "Letters to Legislators" project. Send a letter to your legislator at our booth, and we will give you a ceramic U.S Flag lapel pin identical to the one President Obama wears. We look forward to seeing you in Chicago!

More information is available on the Government Relations page of the FMI website www.fmi.org or by contacting Jennifer Hatcher, senior vice president, government and political affairs, FMI, at 202-452-8444. Follow us on Twitter: @FMI_GR.