Today’s Foodie Friday features an inspiring supermarket industry leader—Mike Eardley, CEO and Chairman of the International Deli Dairy Bake Association (IDDBA).
I caught up with Mike as he shared his insights from years of food industry experience, his fresh ideas and outlook on the current happenings in the grocery business, and a glimpse toward future innovations in customer engagement.
You’ve been at the helm as CEO for about two years now. What does your typical day look like?
It is filled with activity and many learning opportunities. We, as an organization, are smaller than many people may think. My days at the office are focused on creating and fostering deep and broad communication between our team members.
I travel frequently to have meaningful face-to-face conversations with our members often as possible. I listen carefully to what our members have to say and share the feedback with my team.
You worked with a number of different large regional retailers before taking this position. What has the transition been like for you?
The focus on the customer in my current role is similar—it mainly involves listening to, understanding, and responding to their needs. I’m convinced that being available to talk with them is vitally important. One of the biggest challenges I face today is in the number of channels which require consistent and sometimes ongoing communication.
In previous positions, I was much more focused on one area of the Dairy, Deli, and Bakery at a time at retail. Here at the association, I am focused on all three—often at the same time. Though challenging at times, this role is exciting and rewarding, as it also allows me to learn from a broader number of people and types of businesses.
I strive to always keep in mind that the IDDBA is owned by the industry. We strive to be an essential and valuable resource to our members—to help them help their customers.
What things have been the most rewarding about your role as CEO of IDDBA?
I get to work with some of the most creative and talented people in the food profession! Working with and empowering this terrific and highly-motivated staff to utilize their abilities and ideas has been tremendously rewarding. It’s an amazing experience to work alongside them as they utilize their collective expertise to turn the yearly show into an incredibly engaging customer-focused event.
What are some of the biggest surprises you’ve encountered?
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the diversity of talent I’ve encountered. It is amazing to see how that talent works together. For example, last year I was able to see how Dairy-Deli-Bake Seminar and Expo starts as an empty convention center floor with 1,900 exhibitor booths ready to host out 9,000-plus attendees. This year, I’ll be chronicling our progress by tweeting the changes as they happen—the whole process from the empty cavern to the completed show floor. Be watching for my tweets at @IDDBAMIKE.
How many years has the annual expo been held now?
This is the 52nd year of the association, and we have had some type of show every year. It started out as the Wisconsin Cheese Association with small table-top booths in Milwaukee, and today, 50 years later, we fill convention centers around the U.S.
How many team members are involved in making the event happen?
Our team includes 25 full-time staff members, additional temporary help, and countless service partners. Hundreds of people come together throughout the year to plan and execute all the pieces involved to pull off the show.
How much time will your team have to catch their breath before gearing up for next year’s event?
There isn’t much time at all. We have already begun working on next year’s event in Anaheim!
What are the most compelling reasons anyone should attend the IDDBA Show in Houston this year?
Based on our member surveys, most members come for networking, to see new products, and for educational opportunities. We’ve expanded our Show and Sell Center to 28,000 square-feet, redesigned the New Product Showcase, and extended the expo schedule by an hour on Sunday and Monday. We have a great Saturday night event—the IDDBA Welcome Party—and the Monday night Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board Party, which provide opportunities to bring the community together. It’s a very exciting time for people of all ages to meet others in the industry and learn something new. You’ll hear from a fantastic speaker lineup including Lydia Bastianich from Eataly and Lori Grenier from Shark Tank. People will leave the event inspired and energized.
Aside from the annual expo, which current IDDBA offerings provide the greatest value to supermarket food professionals?
Our publication What’s In Store is a great resource for any question you might have about the industry. Also, this year, we are releasing more research than ever. People are choosing to consume information in smaller chunks, and we’re responding to that preference. Topics include Omnichannel, allergens and social media presence.
What industry-altering trends do you see coming down the pike?
Hopefully, it isn’t a trend, but a standard for all of us—an emphasis on food safety—particularly food safety training and food safety controls.
Hiring and developing the right people is critical for success.
Having information readily available for the shopper, such as key features like Local, Sustainable, and Clean Label, is a prominent focus, along with information on how to serve and properly prepare items.
Every shopper has certain things they want to eat. How do we sell the food in a way that is entertaining—both to others and ourselves?
Also, people are eating differently and sharing their food experiences on social networks.
Who are some of your personal food heroes?
I come from a farm family. My first heroes are the people who produce the great milk that makes great cheese. Also, I admire many of the young chefs who have challenged the way we eat—chefs who source local ingredients and create dishes by combining them in new ways, and those who specialize in fusion cuisine. I also count the people who have educated us about foods and beverages from around the world as heroes. It is amazing to see how far we’ve come—and yet, how far we still have to go.
Describe your ULTIMATE food experience.
I had a wonderful meal several years ago at the Everest Room—a top-10 restaurant at the time—in Chicago. Chef Jean Joho brought out a phenomenal tasting menu. I’ve also enjoyed great meals in Italy and France. I can’t discount times when I have prepared a complete meal on my 400-pound smoker in Texas with my family. Even with the many food experiences I’ve had, I must say that I have not had the ultimate food experience yet—but I am always on the lookout.
Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts about IDDBA and the supermarket world with us today, Mike! I look forward to all the exciting sights, tastes, and memorable food experiences at this year’s expo.
Have a great weekend, and as always, Happy Foodie Friday!
If you enjoy Foodie Friday, check out Steve’s karaoke and business blog here!