In this exclusive interview featured in LPM’s Winter Issue, Jack Trlica asks FMI’s Doug Baker about the work the association is doing, FMI’s Asset Protection Council, and the upcoming loss prevention conference.
JACK TRLICA: For those who may not know, give our readers a brief history of FMI and the role it has played over the years in the grocery industry.
DOUG BAKER: This year FMI celebrates forty-five years. The roots of our FMI name date back to the merger of two leading associations that served the industry since the 1930s, the Super Market Institute and the National Association of Food Chains. This combination resulted in a new name, the Food Marketing Institute, along with its more commonly used acronym, FMI. In 2002, the board of directors approved a plan to join FMI’s food retail and wholesale members with the grocery wholesaler members of Food Distributors International (FDI). And in 2003, FMI acquired the Safe Quality Food (SQF) supplier certification program from the Department of Agriculture of Western Australia. The SQF program is designed to manage food safety and product quality utilizing industry specific codes of practice and regulations. Today, as FMI, The Food Industry Association, we work with and on behalf of the entire industry to advance a safer, healthier, and more efficient consumer food supply chain.
JACK: When did you finalize the FMI rebranding?
DOUG: With the resolve and perspective of the FMI board of directors and executive committee, we refocused our lens and embraced the broader food community over the last several years. This came together more formally with the launch of our emboldened organization on January 21, 2020. Our goal is to work toward the overall progress of the food industry, through advocacy, collaboration, and education. And what we do matters, as we support and help foster our members’ ability to feed and nourish consumers. On that date—coincidentally right before the pandemic hit our nation—we revealed a new FMI, one that embraces the new marketplace. Anchored in our tagline as The Food Industry Association, we believe it is crucial to take an end-to-end value chain view that extends beyond retailers to include manufacturers and others, so we can most effectively amplify the collective voice and impact across the industry.
JACK: What is your role with the association?
DOUG: I joined in 2014 to lead private brands for FMI. Over the past seven years, I have had the pleasure and opportunity to expand my role to include technology and oversight of asset protection and risk. Each of these focus areas is grounded in a community. Like the professionals I represent among our member companies, my role shifted quickly to address the pandemic and the essential nature of our industry to keep Americans fed and safe.
JACK: What was your previous industry experience before joining FMI?
DOUG: This industry has been my life work, starting in store operations with Fry’s Food Stores, a division of the Kroger Company. After several years as a retailer, I had the opportunity to see the industry from a different vantage point and moved to Nabisco, staying through the acquisition by Kraft. I moved from manufacturer brands to private brands with Federated Group, which owns one of the very first private brands in the US—Red & White—which supported the Red & White stores and competed against the Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, one of the largest retailers at that time. I led their sales organization, supporting retailers’ private brand development and marketing activities. My career path led me to FMI and naturally set me up to understand the business and address our members’ needs as a peer.
JACK: Tell us more about FMI’s asset protection group. Who are the key players inside FMI supporting AP?
DOUG: Chad Ross, manager of industry relations, leads day‑to‑day operations of the asset protection council, but several years back we also organized an internal crisis management team across government relations, food safety, communications, and legal roles within FMI. In March of 2020, we not only operationalized this group, but because of the pandemic, the entire organization played a key role in supporting the industry.
It was really a testament to the culture our CEO Leslie Sarasin built after arriving in 2009. Everyone stood willing and ready to support our members and this industry. During that time, we revised or created several guides to support members who were experiencing the impacts from civil unrest, de‑escalating conflict, food safety and sanitation, to increased awareness training because of a rise in active assailants.
JACK: Tell us more about your asset protection council.
DOUG: The asset protection council is an inclusive group of twenty food retail senior executives (see box) from independent regional operators to publicly traded national companies working interdependently to predict, confront, and resolve common issues or concerns using an all-hazards, all-threats, all‑crime, all-the-time approach. The council has experienced growth through the pandemic and is open to all FMI member companies.
JACK: I attended several FMI loss prevention conferences over the past twenty years. But you’ve not held a conference recently. However, 2022 will be different. Tell us about your upcoming conference.
DOUG: As we get closer to the date—March 21–24 at Loews Portofino Bay in Orlando—and more session formats and speakers are confirmed, we are really excited about this conference. Our mission going in was that this be a conference for high-impact industry dialog built by the industry. The council has owned this process and done a terrific job. In terms of its format, by including smaller roundtable discussions following the general sessions, attendees will have the opportunity to dive into the topic learnings from their peers and activating what they’ve learned in their own companies. Additionally, we want the solution providers involved to confidently engage with retailers through our B2B scheduler. Of course, no conference is successful without meaningful and enjoyable networking activities, which attendees will be able to enjoy once again—in person—with each other.
JACK: Would you talk about some of the topics you especially think will be of value to attendees?
DOUG: The most impactful speakers we invite will be retailers. Our goal is to ensure that our attendees leave the conference with real-world applications for their companies, and what better way to learn than by getting a lesson from a peer. We’ll address the growing organized retail crime (ORC) concern, the rise in active shooter events, and ways to strengthen public-private partnerships. As we understand in our role as crisis management practitioners, if we fail to prepare, we prepare to fail. We are doing everything possible to assist key personnel in preparing, responding, stabilizing, and finally recovering from these situations.
DOUG: Bringing the conference back was a priority of the council prior to the pandemic. We heard from many in the industry that felt there was a void when it came to asset protection events that focused on food retail. One of our council members stated it well, when he said, “All food retailers are retailers, but not all retailers are food retailers.” There are AP issues that span retail sectors, but there are also ones that are unique to food retail and are best addressed by those within our community that have food industry expertise. If an executive wants to know how his or her peers are addressing specific food retail related issues, this event is where they need to be to explore and learn.
JACK: Apart from the upcoming conference, what are some of FMI’s asset protection initiatives for 2022?
DOUG: For 2022, we are releasing our first annual State of the Industry report focused on asset protection. Additionally, we are working with partners to review and update several of our crisis guides—from cyber to active assailant. In addition to our partnership with The Power of Preparedness (TPOP), we will also be announcing a member+ partner relationship focused on early crisis detection. Last and equally important is the opportunity for 2022 strategic planning based on lessons learned from the conference. The influence of this event’s collective attendance will give us the ability to learn and respond to FMI members in the AP community.
JACK: How can asset protection professionals get involved with FMI?
DOUG: Companies interested in FMI asset protection may email Chad Ross, manager, industry relations, at email@example.com. To listen to an LPM podcast with Doug Baker, click here.