2017 Food & Drug Conference Summary

Leaders in the supermarket and drug store industries received updates on developments in the rapidly evolving retail sector during the 2017 Food & Drug Conference on Dec. 11, 2017.

The event’s prestigious lineup of speakers included Richard “Dick” Gephardt, former majority leader of the United States House of Representatives and a two-time presidential candidate, who provided a “win-win” look at the future of health care, as well as retail analyst Meredith Adler, labor leader Jacques Loveall and workplace leadership expert Monica Wofford.

America’s medical institutions provide superb treatment for severely ill people, said Gephardt, who has served as an advisor on governmental affairs and labor issues since retiring from the House in 2005.

Unfortunately, the health care system as a whole is disorganized and needlessly expensive, he said.

Employers and workers in the industries have had to cope with rising medical costs, which have limited funds available for wage increases in recent decades, industry observers have noted.

“It’s not anyone’s fault we have this system,” Gephardt said. “Everyone is doing their best.”

Gephardt is working with labor and corporate leaders as well as an advocacy group called America’s Agenda: Health Care for All in a collaboration called Solidaritus Health. This alliance is creating solutions to the health care crisis, most recently with the establishment of a system of health care facilities focused on putting the needs of each patient first.

The facilities, some of which already exist in some parts of the country, use a “team” model where a primary care physician works with the patient and all of the specialists — dietitians, physical therapists, mental health providers, etc. — to coordinate an efficient and effective plan of care and recovery.

Gephardt concluded his remarks with a passionate call for engagement in civil discussion of the issues dividing Americans.

“We have to respect one another and listen to one another, and be willing to inform people we don’t agree with, to try to bring them into a different sense of reality than what they have,” he said.

“This is the process of democracy,” he continued. “This is believing in one another, respecting one another, conversing with one another… It’s the only way to go. It’s the only thing that works.”

Jacques Loveall, president of UFCW 8-Golden State and a key proponent of union ownership of team-based health care facilities, added his thoughts on the subject in his remarks to the Food & Drug Conference.

Through team-based care, “We end up providing better care, which leads to better outcomes at lower cost,” he said.

Loveall also introduced Jason Hackett, a local restaurant employee and a member of the Culinary Workers Union, who inspired the attendees with heartfelt comments on the benefits of worker solidarity and the power of people coming together to help one another in times of need.

Afterward, a “fireside chat” discussion between longtime industry analyst Meredith Adler and FDC Director Ellen Anreder covered “Trends, Developments and Challenges Facing the Food and Drug Industries.”

Adler surprised some attendees with her skeptical observations on the acquisition of Whole Foods Market stores by Amazon.com.

“For those stores to become e-commerce hubs makes no sense,” she said.

Adler also said her research shows Walmart’s stores are not performing well enough to justify its stock price and the company’s market share has stopped growing due to a decision not to add new stores.

At the same time, while Aldi and newcomer Lidl remain a potential threat to market share for established U.S. supermarket chains, “these stores are still very low volume,” Adler said.

The 2017 Food & Drug Conference concluded with an interactive and lively presentation by acclaimed speaker Monica Wofford, whose topic was “Make Difficult People Disappear: How to Reduce Conflict in the Workplace.”

The next Food & Drug Conference is set for Monday, Dec. 10, 2018.