FMI a no-frills affair

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Bikini-clad babes and even the semi-celebrities of the trade-show circuit were as scarce as carbohydrates at this year's supermarket industry conference.

The thwack of golf balls against plastic from one booth's golf simulator reverberated loudly among the murmurs of food salespeople and the fewer-than-usual retail executives, murmurs usually drowned out by pulsating music drawing attendees to performance artists and personalities offering autographs. But at last week's Food Marketing Institute meeting at Chicago's cavernous McCormick Place, bells and whistles went by the wayside as marketers scaled back, trimming their investment in line with their waist-trimming offerings.

According to Jake Field, director-marketing at soy marketer Genisoy, the noticeable lack of celebrities this year is, among other things, likely a result of the growing number of non-retailer attendees. More and more, true retail decision-makers are being replaced with marketing and design companies who are "trying to sell you things instead of you selling to others," he said. Understandably, "people don't want to spend money on celebrities for people selling them magazine ads."

With fame also departed fatty foods. Kraft Foods' annual Oreo-stacking contest was absent (huge stacks of Oreos might suggest unhealthy eating habits) as was any sort of Ben & Jerry's presence, replaced instead by parent Unilever Bestfoods' many Carb Options varieties. In fact, the only visible ice cream samples were Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream's Edy's Grand Light line. But there is hope for next year's high-carb offerings, as a line formed almost constantly at Amoroso's Hearth-Baked Bread and Rolls' sandwich cart.

"We can't make `em fast enough," said Exec VP Len Amoroso. Although the Philadelphia-based company did have a low-carb bread on display, "we only had one request for it in two days."

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