Food retailing is one of the most vital parts of an economy – if not the most vital. Food, after all, is basic sustenance, and those who provide food, drink and household essentials keep people and societies moving forward on an everyday basis.
As the events of the past few years have shown, the food industry is open to threats that directly impact the flow of foods and goods to consumers. If this is an ultimate asset, it needs protecting at many levels.
While it’s often impossible to prevent a crisis and or even see it coming in the way it unfolds – the early COVID-19 pandemic days of 2020 being Exhibit A in that regard – planning and preparedness make a difference in how a situation is managed. FMI – The Food Industry Association – helps retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers anticipate and address a wide range of asset protection (AP) issues.
FMI’s team of experts are in place to help safeguard property, profits and, above all else, people. In fact, according to the 2022 FMI Asset Protection in Food Retail survey, the health and well-being of associates was the number-one concern listed among AP leaders. Given the breadth and depth of crises that have faced the food industry, FMI is regularly updating and expanding its resources to include comprehensive guides, research-based reports, collaborative training, and special events like the upcoming Asset Protection and Grocery Resilience Conference in Orlando– all specifically designed for the food industry.
That industry specialization has proven valuable for those involved at various points in the food retailing business. FMI offers tools and expertise for its members across the value chain — from retailers who sell to consumers, to producers who supply the food, as well as the wide variety of companies providing critical services — to amplify the collective work of the industry. Importantly, the organization also brings people in this essential industry together to share their experiences and ideas in an ever-shifting environment, through the annual AP conference and other forums, both online and in-person.
The Rising Threat Level
If food is at the crux of people’s lives, it’s also at the center of many safety and security challenges. Three of the major crises of the last three years – the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain backlogs, and inflation – fell square into the food retailing space. Add to that social unrest, changing laws at the state and federal level, weather-related disasters, and a war in Ukraine – known as a breadbasket of the world – and you can see why preparedness has moved up the priority list for those in the food supply chain.
Accordingly, those tasked with protecting people, property, and profits in the food industry have a lot on their proverbial plate as the 2020s continue to be a disruptive time. A decade ago, protection encompassed the rather straightforward protection of merchandise and facilities – something that was gently dubbed “cops and robbers.” In today’s more complicated world, with challenges exacerbated by the pandemic and other socioeconomic and geopolitical circumstances, retailers must contend with a new crop of serious threats. The scope of their jobs has greatly expanded.
Fortunately, technology has accelerated to the point at which retailers can use various tools to largely address small-scale theft, guided by the principle of protecting lives over products. Such advances allow retail AP professionals to focus on the additional simultaneous challenges facing the industry right now.
- More opportunities for loss: Retail AP professionals must deal with traditional shoplifting as well as new and emerging forms of theft and fraud. The advent of grocery technologies like self-checkout, for example, has led to different vulnerabilities for theft, along with shrink and waste that are not intentional.
- The rise of organized crime: The rate of organized crime targeting the retail industry, including the grocery sector, is as high as it has ever been. Criminal operations have become savvy at working together to steal goods from shelves, use stolen credit cards to buy merchandise and manipulate ecommerce, among other activities. Moreover, some of those enterprises have become violent.
- Greater risk for conflict and personal harm: Unfortunately, security in the food retailing sector increasingly involves ways to protect shoppers and staff from violence. Situational awareness is pivotal, and active shooter training has moved to table-stakes education for retail employees at all levels, especially in the wake of mass shootings that occurred at grocery stores in 2021 and 2022. In addition to quickly identifying assailants and protecting associates and customers, teaching staff on how to de-escalate conflict is also a must to diffuse potentially explosive events.
Beyond these front-burner issues, retailers and their safety and security professionals must plan for other things that may arise, such as severe weather events that can affect virtually any part of the country, an adulteration attempt by an individual or group, or a labor strike that can compromise security. And that doesn’t even count the things that come seemingly out of the blue.
Resources for Retailers
Given the evolving and growing number of crises in the food industry, retailers have had to rethink, redeploy, and retrain their team members to handle what may come up. I, for one, didn’t expect to have to use a bleeding-control kit for a gunshot victim in the store when I was a store worker at age 17; these were more focused on accidents with box cutters or in the butcher shop and other such incidents. It’s a different world now, and one that requires different approaches and foresight.
To support its members, FMI offers several resources that share best practices, standardize nomenclature and offer other solutions for todays – and tomorrow’s – threats. These resources reflect FMI’s all-hazards, all-threats, all-crime, all-the-time approach.
- Crisis guides: FMI members who are part of the retail, wholesale and manufacturing sectors can utilize the many crisis guides that the organization has developed and made available. In addition to guides devoted to active assailants, de-escalation, civil unrest, and other matters, FMI links its members to additional resources from federal, state, and local authorities.
- Extensive training options: In addition to its own comprehensive training programs, FMI works in tandem with other experts to offer retailers and their AP teams with the latest education and instruction. One of those partnerships is with The Power of Preparedness, or TPOP, which provides online training focused on active assailant training and workplace violence preparedness. Covering several relevant topics, that training can be customized to different settings and includes short, succinct sessions. FMI has also teamed with Early Alert, comprised of a qualified team of professionals from the public, private and military sectors who help retailers and other businesses reduce risks and mitigate losses from hazards threatening their organizations; together, the groups offer real-time consulting that spans emergency management, disaster response and recovery and incident command and control, among other topics.
- Research and educational materials: Every year, FMI publishes a state-of-the-industry report based on research and insights from stakeholders on what keeps them up at night. That report sets a yearly benchmark for the industry. Throughout the year, FMI also hosts downloadable digital seminars featuring industry leaders and innovators talking about key issues.
- Special events: This spring – and for the second time in five years – FMI will host its Asset Protection and Grocery Resilience Conference at the Hyatt Regency in Orlando. Fla. Running March 19-22, the event provides an opportunity for professionals in loss prevention, risk management, workplace safety, and crisis management to collaborate and network on issues that impact their shoppers, employees, facilities, and overall business success. Those who are pursuing certification from the Loss Prevention Foundation can earn continuing education credits from this conference.
Several hot-button topics are on the agenda for the 2023 conference, including business continuity planning; organized retail crime; civil unrest; workplace violence; and cybersecurity. In addition to keynote presentations and breakout educational sessions, attendees will come together in business-to-business networking meetings to talk about challenges, learnings, and best practices. FMI will help facilitate those B2B meetings to connect trading partners and foster important discussions.
In addition to providing resources for its global members, FMI regularly keeps a pulse on happenings that affect the safety and security of food and essential goods. Among other year-round efforts, FMI’s team works closely with Federal Agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), for preparedness and situational awareness to gauge and improve response to crisis events. While we all wish we didn’t have to think about such scenarios, it’s our mission of protection that goes hand-in-hand with sustenance.