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FMI Show’s ’08 Vegas venue putting faith in lady luck


CHICAGO —The Food Marketing Institute’s FMI Show and the other participants in the five-exhibition event held at the McCormick Convention Center from May 6 to 8, provided a glimpse of a food industry future where issues and lifestyle preferences will have a bigger bearing on sales. So, perhaps inevitably, new trade shows continue to develop even as FMI tries to establish a revised role within the food industry.

The process of working out that new role may have been put into effect in response to a recently established trade show’s plans to increase its frequency.

The revolutionary transformation of food retailing that has been taking place over the past quarter century has translated into rapid development of new products and services, but how the food industry has changed also is having a profound bearing on the conventions and exhibitions that serve it.

As has been announced, the FMI Show is off to Las Vegas next year, and the exhibition will become biannual, with an educational event offered in off years.

Although a similar decision led to the demise of the exhibition once run by the International Mass Retail Association exhibition (now the Retail Industry Leaders Association), Tim Hammonds, president of FMI, expressed confidence at the time of last year’s announcement about the scheduling change, saying the show would not be diminished by the plan to alternate events. “The FMI Show will always be the signature event that provides an opportunity for FMI members to connect with their peers in the industry, gain access to new products and services and take advantage of unique education opportunities,” he said.

Yet nobody visiting the show this year could fail to note that the FMI exhibition, in the context of the multifaceted McCormick Place event, has diminished markedly over the years. Bill Greer, an FMI spokesman, said, “The market space was the same as last year.” But, he conceded it was so because of the presence of Marketechnics. And, with all three exhibitions in what was technically FMI space, the convention center’s South Hall wasn’t nearly filled.

Next year, FMI will part ways with two current vital exhibition partners, the Organic Trade Association’s All Things Organic exhibition and the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade’s Fancy Food Show, keeping company in Vegas only with its own Marketechnics and the United Fresh Produce Association’s United Fresh Marketplace.

Even as FMI was finishing its Chicago swan song, SIAL Montreal was getting ready to announce that its own convention and exhibition would become an annual event, as Francois Gros, president of IMAX Management, told Retailing Today. IMAX is the North American representative of SIAL Montreal as well as the Paris version—Europe’s major food retailing exhibition. Held in March, SIAL Montreal still is primarily a Canadian event in terms of who exhibits, but it has increasingly drawn U.S. and European participants and intends to become a major food industry international crossroads for all of North America.

Considering this, as well as the fact that shows FMI has shed in its move to Las Vegas are banding together with the U.S. Food Export Showcase for a late-April show in Chicago, and it seems no food industry event can be regarded as clearly central anymore. Indeed, some retailers regard what had been the lesser events as more important because the smaller vendors that participate have been a wellspring of innovation in recent years and because the large vendors at FMI have developed ongoing relationships within food retailing that have superceded the interaction that once took place at FMI.

SIAL Montreal drew a range of U.S. food makers and retailers to its show in March, including representatives of regional food retailers operating in nearby American states. The guest list also included national players such as Kroger and Target who are anxious to find new ideas that will help them differentiate the specialty, organic and gourmet businesses they’ve been developing.

So, just as supermarket operators have had to adjust to new realities in food retailing, the FMI Show, too, will have to change substantially if it wants to stave off competition and remain the major food exhibition for the U.S. food industry.

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