Q&A with Meg Major
How is FMI redefining itself amid change
that shows no signs of abatement?
Mark Baum: It begins with our strategic planning process, which is our blueprint for the
future that we continue to define and redefine.
The pace of change has accelerated exponentially, as has how we look at the future and
how we activate and implement our strategic
plan to better serve our members and all of the
other industry stakeholders. We’ve also just
completed a project to identify the key emerging issues that are impacting food retailing
over the next several years, which, in no particular order, are the changing consumer; the
changing retail marketplace; the implications
of emerging technology for the future of the
workforce and labor; and the future of food
production in an era of globalization and localization occurring simultaneously.
What is the biggest challenge in under-
standing FMI’s member needs?
To best understand our members’ needs, we
see our value chain as circular in that it begins
and ends with the consumer. Our primary
vehicle to understand the shift in consumers’
needs and wants is through our shopper trends
research, which equips us to better understand
where consumers are going while helping our
members address and understand how they
desire to shop. And increasingly, it means that
they can eat well, which doesn’t just apply to
food and nutrition—which is still a critically
important criteria, as is price, taste and convenience—but health and wellness and lifestyles.
But the long-term impact of product safety and
social issues are also really, really important.
So more mindful consumers mean our members must also be more mindful, which means
we need to do a better job of providing products, services and advocacy that address those
needs. Another thing we rely heavily on is our
annual Speaks survey, which is entirely mem-ber-oriented and gives us a chance to track
needs from year to year so we can adjust in our
offerings as needs dictate.
What do you envision FMI’s evolution will
look like in five years?
Parenthetically, I’ll note that those who look
too deeply into their crystal balls wind up eat-
ing a lot of glass. But when I think about it in
terms of strategy and the marketplace, five is
the new 50, because in five years from now, so
much is going to happen. But I’ll say two things
on that: Given the acceleration of change in
our industry, we use a staggered process that
begins with our strategic plan to look up and
out over the horizon, to consider what our
overarching goals are going to be and what our
key deliverables will look like. We have a five-
year vision for FMI’s role in the industry, and
then we dial it back a little bit to maybe three
years, to think about the strategy itself and the
member value proposition.
The second thing is, at our core, two things
will remain: first, a relentless focus on the consumer and the evolution of consumers’ wants,
needs, desires and demands that we need to
deliver on. No matter how far out we look, they
will be the fulcrum upon which everything
happens. Second, while we will always be the
voice of food retail, over the next five years, as
the industry continues to consolidate and integrate, our voice will broaden to be more representative of the broader food industry. Ultimately, we’re going to all have to stick together
or we’re going to wind up hanging separately.
You were quoted as saying, “Food retailers
are inherently shopper advocates.” While
it’s something we agree with, consumer activists have been known to feel otherwise.
What do you feel is the biggest misconception about the grocery business?
The U.S. food industry’s story is so great, yet
it’s often blown out of context with erroneous
attacks. But our consumer research shows
that [Americans] absolutely believe that their
primary food stores are trusted advocates for
education, information and product selection
to help them make better choices for themselves and their families. I don’t think that
always comes across very well. More broadly,
my pet peeve relates to misconceptions about
FMI’s core mantra, which is: When it comes
to feeding families and enriching lives, we can
deliver food from farm to fork for less than
10 cents on after-tax dollars on a capita basis.
Our food industry is the envy of the world; it’s
efficient, affordable and accessible and offers
great variety. There’s also a presumption that
that product offers quality and will be safe
when the consumer brings it home. That’s an
especially great story to tell, and it also doesn’t
come across all the time.
Mark Baum is SVP of industry
relations and chief collaboration
officer for the Food Marketing
Which words or phrases do you
most overuse? “Food is a tactile
What’s the last book you read?
“The Bonanza King” by Gregory Crouch
Name one person you admire
and tell us why in one sentence.
My wife, Kathy, because she is
talented and tireless, patient and
persevering, strong and sagacious. I L