Picture this setting. The neatly manicured grounds of the spectacular Broadmoor resort are underfoot, the Rocky Mountains are in the background, and the sky above Colorado Springs is a crisp blue. Hundreds of dark-suited senior executives are milling about an early evening reception, sipping wine as white-gloved waiters offer curious looking hors d'oeuvres. People are smiling, shaking hands, making new acquaintances and reconnecting with those whom they haven’t seen since the prior year when the Grocery Manufacturers Association last held its annual executive conference at The Broadmoor.
This amazingly serene setting and cordial atmosphere kicked off the annual gathering of food industry leaders earlier this week, but it would give way in subsequent days to substantive discussions on some amazingly thorny issues confronting the food industry.
The big picture focus is understandable considering those who attend GMA’s executive conference tend to have significant responsibilities that require they look beyond the horizon in order to steer their companies clear of hazards and toward new opportunities. For example, here are a few of the things that were top of mind with GMA attendees:
Implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act – This landmark legislation became law back in January, and now the hard part begins. The folks at the Food and Drug Administration have to promulgate regulations as required by the law and that is expected to be a multi-year process. The significance of the new law was illustrated by the fact that deputy commissioner of foods for the Food and Drug Administration, Michael Taylor, and FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg both appeared on the conference program. The new regulations are likely to come with new fees given the state of the federal budget, even though Taylor indicated he isn’t a fan of fees. Nevertheless, he and commissioner Hamburg acknowledged FDA’s resources are strained. “I don’t want to say we are overwhelmed, but we are fully occupied,” Taylor said. New record keeping requirements and the use of third part firms to accredit overseas touch points in the food supply chain will be huge new challenges for food suppliers.
Growth – Everyone’s favorite topic and the most perplexing because it’s hard to come by, especially in the United States where the current spending climate is lousy and longer term demographics are unfavorable for consumption. “The critical issue this industry faces is growth and the key to growth is innovation,” said Don Knauss, chairman and CEO at Clorox. That’s why Clorox is eyeing new market opportunities in such areas as acute care facilities where an estimated $1 billion is spent on hard surface disinfection. Very little of that amount is spent on bleach-based cleaners, so Clorox is looking to develop some innovative formulations to pursue growth in non-mass market channels. In addition to expanding existing brands into new segments as Clorox is doing, Nestle USA chairman and CEO Brad Alford contends growth possibilities are available to established brands by exporting them to new markets. In Nestle’s case that means taking some of its brands that are highly successful in Mexico and bringing them to the United States. “There are more Hispanics in the United States than there are in Spain,” Alford said. The same philosophy was applied to Brazil where the company’s Kit Kat brand became the number two confectionary brand less than a year after its arrival.
Labeling and consumer education – People increasingly want to know what is in their food, and first Lady Michelle Obama thinks new front-of-pack nutrition labels will help people make better food choices. GMA, the Food Marketing Institute and other industry stakeholders developed the new “Nutritio