Food Marketing Institute and Stagnito Media to Partner

Leslie G. Sarasin, FMI President and CEO, and Harry Stagnito, President and CEO, Stagnito Media Inc., offer insights into their shared mission to serve the food retail industry.

Q: What is the goal of the recently announced strategic partnership between Stagnito Media and FMI?

Leslie G. Sarasin: All of us at FMI are pleased to have the opportunity to expand our role as the voice of food retail that this partnership affords us. By contributing to the pages of such a respected publication as Retail Leader, we add another venue through which our members and the greater food retail industry can access the resources they need to enhance their roles in feeding families and enriching lives.

"The missions of FMI and Retail Leader are closely aligned: to provide information about the highest standards and quality of the food supply in the world."

– Harry Stagnito,

President and CEO

Harry Stagnito: The missions of FMI and Retail Leader are closely aligned: to provide information about the highest standards and quality of the food supply in the world. FMI's vast membership, and Stagnito Media's broad reach into multi-channel retailers, enables both organizations to convey critical industry issues to executives in an in-depth, leading-edge program.

Q: What can Retail Leader readers look forward to as a result of the partnership?

LS: Food retail executives who read Retail Leader will have an opportunity to enjoy a direct line of communication to FMI's leadership and can expect to learn about ongoing projects that support all the pillars of the association: food safety; government relations; supply chain collaboration; health and wellness; and asset protection, just to name a few. Written with the executive in mind, these pages will communicate results-driven initiatives and top-level consideration of issues, events and opportunities.

HS: Because Retail Leader speaks the language of retail management, it surrounds those who need to know about FMI's position on important policies. RL's exclusive content focuses on the issues that drive businesses, such as revenue generation, trends, human resources, shopper insights and capital management. So, when FMI covers a topic that needs to be described in a broad perspective, RL takes its readers behind the scenes to interpret these topics in operational details.

Q: Could each of you share a brief "opportunities" assessment of the retail food industry?

LS: For a retailer, there is nothing worse than a missed opportunity.

"For a retailer, there is nothing worse than a missed opportunity."

– Leslie G. Sarasin,

President and CEO

For example, while there are many elements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that require our continued efforts to address, the cracked and changing healthcare landscape provides a multitude of opportunities for the innovative food retailer. FMI continues to develop resources as a means of helping our members see the light pouring through the cracks and recognize the opportunities being illuminated for food retailers in the new healthcare market.

HS: There has never been so much rapid-paced change as the industry is experiencing. In addition to Leslie's list, the opportunities, if understood, planned and executed properly, are numerous: the increase in multicultural shoppers and products, more efficient use of technology, regional shopping patterns, increased success of new product launches, local sourcing and perishables growth, operational and supply chain innovation, ROI tools, target shopper insights, better recruiting and training of personnel, and improved product and category leadership, to name a few. These are the subjects that RL covers and interprets in every issue.

Q: What is the issue that should be top of mind looking ahead to 2014?

LS: The food industry continues to be inundated with labeling questions and concerns. Labeling doesn't just cover one issue – labeling encompasses a scope of challenging and technical issues as well as our reputation with our customers.

After a year of advocacy by FMI to minimize the burdens of Country of Origin Labeling (COOL), the USDA has agreed to change its store inspection policy regarding record keeping. Separately, but another labeling issue of serious consequence to how food retailers and innovate and compete on fresh, the menu labeling rule by the FDA, oddly enough, a part of ACA, would place another unnecessary burden on our industry, and we've been seeking bipartisan legislation to return to the original, restaurant focus of the rule.

HS: The continuing and improving practice of true retailer/supplier collaboration.

We're currently in the sixth or seventh iteration of collaboration during the past 25 years, and each approach proves more successful. With Big Data leading the way, all parties can now share common information pertaining to effective collaboration practices. Outside of supply chain programs that are quite efficient, collaboration achieves mutual goals of launching successful new products, creating functional trade programs, developing better applications of technology and promoting real innovation. Obviously, all parties gain when the relationship works. The best ideas occur when all participants challenge each other to innovate and improve.

Q: How can we further engage the members of the retailer community?

LS: Discussions abound these days about Big Data, and for good reason; it is an integral part of our making the cultural leap into the information age, and is revolutionizing the way we relate, socialize and do business. It is a powerful tool that has both delights and dangers that the retail community must embrace and be equipped to address. On one hand, issues of cyber security and the safeguard of customer privacy must be addressed; on the other hand, retail leaders must find ways to take advantage of the wealth of information available to them and demonstrate the discernment necessary to find the data they need to better know and serve their customers. Wrestling with these all-encompassing issues will provide the retail community with endless opportunities to differentiate, and the magnitude of some of the dilemmas Big Data presents will drive the retail community together to corporately seek solutions.

HS: My goal over the past 40-plus years in the industry has been to foster more openness and candor among retailers and suppliers. We are in a great position to see all sides of the interaction among the participants, and the consensus is that if we could exchange more information, and if we could break down long-standing barriers to communication, all of the trading partners would benefit.

Leslie is spot-on in that the breakthrough milestone could be Big Data. It has the power to transform the industry. My concern is that it isn't the knowledge gained from Big Data that matters, but the application of it. Recent experience indicates that it takes too long from the time that the data is analyzed until it is acted upon. FMI and RL will provide ideas how to improve this process.

Q: What initiatives would you like to see retailers/suppliers implement to improve the industry?

LS: At FMI, we're working on a new initiative under our strategic plan, entitled Total Store Collaboration, which is a model developed within FMI to partner effectively with other associations whose sectors are relevant to FMI's membership. Examples include pharmacy and fresh, which is inclusive of the produce and meat departments. These are very important parts of the store, so we'll be working with groups that represent these industry sectors to identify the issues we need to work on collaboratively and the ways FMI can help facilitate those collaborations. This year, FMI invested in the talent needed to lead the industry effort on Total Store Collaboration. We made significant progress in expanding our supplier relationships from center store outward, but we believe that efficiency and enhanced productivity within the industry demands more work in this strategic area.

HS: Thanks Leslie, I couldn't have said it better myself. This is a subject we will be covering in detail during 2014.