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"Efficiency" is the watchword of this year's Food Marketing Institute convention in Chicago as executives gather this week for the grocery industry's largest annual show.

It comes in the form of discussions on Efficient Consumer Response, an industrywide effort to streamline product creation, distribution and marketing.

It's also reflected in the number of retailers, manufacturers, wholesalers and others expected to attend. At 34,000, the figure is down slightly from last year's 35,000-plus. But organizers said they're pleased with the anticipated turnout, noting most businesses are trying to cut costs and sending only those most likely to benefit.

Ask Tim Hammonds, named FMI president-CEO at last year's convention, what he hopes to accomplish this year, and you'll hear it in his pragmatic subtext: "We hope those who attend see a significant return on their investment. We're pleased that in a tough environment, this show is as strong as ever."

Those attending can choose from 55 workshops and hear research releases on topics like healthcare reform's impact, category management and store brands.

Speakers will include industry leaders from all sides of the business, as well as government. Food & Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler will speak on new food labeling rules.

Perhaps the most important information from the show will come on the display floor, where some 1,300 exhibits from virtually every major package-goods company will show their latest new products and information.

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