A private brand manufacturer partner, for example, can use this online marketplace to improve sales performance and enhance and expand their customers. As I said, as a retailer, they can continually, on a discrete basis, seek out new product supplier partners and products.
Then, once you get accustomed to using this system, almost think of it as a secondary sales platform or procurement platform. When we do have a crisis, and we're coming into hurricane season or some other natural disaster, all you have to do is turn up the volume. It's there. It's already in place.
As we've looked back, how wonderful would it have been to have this at the beginning of this epidemic?
SB:Bravo for pulling it together so quickly.
MB: It's interesting you should say that, because this current circumstance has pushed all of us into this need-for-speed mode in ways we never had before. As you know, our supply chain, while resilient, flexible and expandable, does not necessarily move at clock speed. This has been a real test of resilience and our capacity, but it's also allowed us to prove our mettle.
I think that's important also that The Seam, because of their work in the industry, immediately understood what we were looking to do, knew what fields to program and how to code this thing in a way that we could set it up relatively quickly and then get it populated.
SB: How do suppliers get involved with it?
MB: We have launched it as a member service. We have invited all of FMI's retail and wholesale members to be part of it on the buy side, and we've invited all our associates and product supplier members (CPG manufacturers, private brand manufacturers) on the supply side. We are also going to invite non-member companies through our partners in other associations. They are our sister associations in the areas of foodservice distribution, in fresh produce, fresh meat, fresh seafood, bakery, frozen and the like. We are going to make the platform available to their members as well. They don't necessarily have to be part of the exchange, but if there are members who see value in it, they can go in and kick the tires on it, and if they like it, they can participate in it.
SB: What’s the future vision of the Food Industry Exchange?
MB: The way we envision this is it will help ameliorate the current set of conditions in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it will take some time. It will build over time for trading partners to use it on a year-round basis, so that manufacturers who either have special offers that they want to make, or they're long in a particular product, or it's perishable and they need to move quickly, can make these buy-now offers to retailers. They can also get exposed to a much broader set of retailers than if they're a regional supplier who would like to expand their exposure and distribution into other regions. So It'll allow them to do that on a much more cost-effective basis, because it's an online marketplace. It's not like you're physically having to travel to trade shows or deploy a field sales organization. It's up there, and it's immediately available.
Then, as we see more transactions take place, I think we're going to reach a critical mass. It's going to be one of those things we look back on and say, "You know what? The pandemic really allowed us as an industry to discover a whole new set of tools that are just going to become part of the way we do business."