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My term as IFT President is nearing the end. When I accepted the nomination to run some two years ago, little did I know what this office entailed. And who could have projected the events of September 11? I officially took office on September 1, taking the baton from Mary Schmidl, and began to direct an aggressive program full of vim and vigor. But ten days later, the world changed, businesses and organizations were forced to alter plans, and the finally admitted recession seemed to catalyze a slowdown of the economy. IFT found itself facing declining incomes, and business as usual was not in the cards.
With the help of IFT’s Executive Vice President Dan Weber and Vice President of Finance & Administration Mike Cernauskas, I quickly appointed a Financial Planning Task Force to review the situation and began to lay out a plan. For the first time in IFT history, a mid-year budget adjustment had to be made.
We made some immediate program cuts and asked the staff and committees to reduce costs where possible. As the months progressed, the task force realized that those cuts were not enough and that further cuts were necessary. All reductions were approved by the Executive Committee and included such things as delaying programs, reducing staff (by 14), eliminating the face-to-face spring meetings of IFT committees and using conference calls and electronic media instead, and making many other cuts, forcing us to be more efficient.
We also began an in-depth review of four critical areas: career guidance, continuing education, communication and government relations, and publications. This review is ongoing and exciting.
Even under the worst of times, the momentum of several already-initiated programs went to completion. This included relocating the headquarters office to 525 W. Van Buren St. in Chicago, completing the special scientific report on “Emerging Food Safety Issues,” and holding the second International Food Safety and Quality Conference and Expo in Atlanta in February.
It was also time for us to launch a five-year planning process, and with an outside consultant and President-Elect Mark McLellan’s leadership the team developed an exciting plan that Mark will discuss in his President’s Page next month.
In addition to cutting expenses, we are also planning to explore new sources of income, since our normal income sources are vulnerable to uncontrollable events.
One area of discussion has been IFT’s Food Expo. Some exhibitors would like IFT to hold Food Expo every other year rather than every year. After reviewing the pros and cons, the Executive Committee has gone on record as supporting a Food Expo every year. Many exhibitors may choose to go every other year or not exhibit at all. They can determine their own business options. Some choose big exhibits, and some choose smaller venues. The key word is choice.
In addition, we have surveyed our members, and they indicate that Food Expo plays a significant role in our Annual Meeting. Members spend more time on the exhibit floor than any other place during the Annual Meeting. They use the exhibits to network and learn what’s new this year. More than 64% of food processor attendees use the Expo as a main source of finding new suppliers. Likewise, this year we had more than 140 first-time exhibitors. A survey of food processors showed that even with the growing use of select suppliers, 85% of the industry continuously look for new suppliers. With more than 5,000 new food and beverage products introduced each year, it seemed that in this case “new and improved” happens every year, unlike other supplier areas such as equipment. For these reasons, we are booked for a Food Expo through 2009, and you can count on this, no matter how big or small the Expo is.
As I move from President to Immediate Past President, IFT will be in the good hands of Mark McLellan. I hope that you will give him the trust that you gave to me.
by PHILIP E. NELSON
IFT President, 2001–02
Head, Dept. of Food Science, Purdue University