The Food Shippers of America Blog

2024 FSA Conference in Review: Driving Resilience through Talent, Technology

by Staff, on Mar 11, 2024 12:30:51 PM

Food Shippers of America hosted its 68th annual conference March 3-5 at the Signia by Hilton Bonnet Creek Resort in Orlando, Florida.

More than 1,300 supply chain professionals and providers in the food and beverage industry attended the 2024 Food Shippers Annual Conference in Orlando to collaborate, network and learn with their peers. “The energy at this year’s unique 3-day event was amazing,” said one attendee.

Baseball Great Cal Ripken Talks about Perseverance

One of highlights of the conference was FSA’s opening keynote, Cal Ripken Jr. Baseball’s all-time “Iron Man” and an American icon, and raised in a baseball family, Ripken told his story of how his career spanned 21 seasons, all with his hometown Baltimore Orioles. After retiring from the game in 2001, he remained dedicated to baseball through the establishment and growth of Ripken Baseball and the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation. He has traveled the world celebrating the game he loves at the grassroots level and continues to work with Major League Baseball and the US State Department to keep kids from all walks of life engaged with the sport of baseball and use the game to spread good will.

Cal-Ripken-Conf-Recap“Take the opportunity to learn where you can,” Cal Ripken Jr. advised the audience during his keynote. “The best opportunities come from perseverance.”

Biggest Challenges in Food Chains

Supply chain executives from some of the largest food and beverage brands discussed their biggest challenges and opportunities in the food chan. Some of the biggest areas of focus for in 2024?

Shippers-Panel-Conf-RecapSupply chain professionals from Molson Coors Beverage, Sysco, Nestle, and Lindt & Sprungli talked about initiatives in strategic sourcing, network optimization, sustainability, supplier collaboration, and artificial intelligence (AI).

From workforce shortages to infrastructure challenges and environmental mandates, the issues that impact the trucking industry ultimately affect the entire supply chain. American Transportation Research Institute President Rebecca Brewster shared ATRI’s findings on how the industry ranks these concerns and more importantly, what the trucking industry is doing to address each.

Brewster-Conf-Recap“The struggle is real” for supply chain pros when it comes to transportation, said Brewster. She also discussed lack of truck parking to environmental mandates and congestion as some of the largest emerging challenges (and opportunities) for the industry.

Also top of the list of challenges in supply chains is the struggle to find and retain skilled talent. Leading the discussion on educating and attracting Gen Z was Dr. Stephanie Thomas, Associate Professor with the Department of Supply Chain Management at the University of Arkansas. She facilitated candid feedback and observations from recent college graduates who are now working in the supply chain departments of food industry companies – and what they are looking for in a rewarding work environment.

“We’re looking for meaningful work with a sense of autonomy, flexibility, work-life balance, and the ability to work collaboratively with others,” said one panelist.

Josh-Evans-Conf-RecapJoshua Evans is on a mission to fundamentally change the way people view their work by bringing deeper purpose into the workplace.

Adding to the conversation about the future of talent in the supply chain was Joshua Evans. underscored that the modern workplace has increased levels of uncertainty leading to individuals becoming burned out, disengaged, unfulfilled, and unhappy. Evans gave the audience practical tips on how to demolish toxic workplace preconceptions and pursue a future of work where individuals derive deeper meaning and purpose in the work they do.

A Slowing Freight Economy: Top of the List of Concerns

There was a lot of industry chatter around the state of the economy and how the transportation and supply chain industries have key indicators of what’s happening in the economy. Erik Starks, Chairman of FTR, gave his perspectives on the overall economy, as well as trucking, rail and intermodal indicators. He indicated that the Consumer Price Index (goods versus services) had plateaued from 2012 through 202, and then significantly spiked following the COVID pandemic – but both have decreased significantly in the past 12 to 18 months. He also covered the rate outlook in total truckload activity. 


In his traditional closing keynote address, Bob Costello, Chief Economist with American Trucking Associations, discussed the truckload, LTL and intermodal markets and freight market trends. He underscored the three big sources of truck freight are household consumption and retail, construction (home and non-residential), and factory/industrial. 


Costello discussed LTL and contract truckload average revenue per mile and how rates have been gradually declining year-over-year since the latter half of 2022. Costello also mentioned that recent data through ATA’s truck tonnage was a snap back to reality for anyone thinking the freight market was about to turn the corner. Bad winter weather in early weeks of 2024 likely hurt volumes, not to mention sharp drops in a number of drivers of tonnage including retail sales, housing starts and manufacturing output.

Bob-Costello-Conf-RecapBob Costello, Chief Economist with American Trucking Associations, discussed the truckload, LTL and intermodal markets and freight market trends during his traditional closing keynote at this year’s Food Shippers Annual Conference.

And the Biggest Opportunities?

There was a lot of buzz this year in how AI can impact supply chains. Leading the conversation during an educational session was Ken Goldberg, William S. Floyd Jr. Distinguished Professor of Engineering at the University of California Berkeley and Chief Scientist with Ambi Robotics. He discussed recent advances in AI, robotics, networking and the potential dangers they raise in terms of security and privacy. Goldberg addressed these issues head-on in the context of how today’s food chains are being impacted by advances in audio, video/face recognition, and data surveillance.

Golf, Networking, Scholarships, and More

There were ample opportunities for supply chain professionals with food manufacturers, retailers and distributors to network among their peers – and with their valued providers and prospects. This networking took place during formal conference hours in a private meeting area, as well as during networking receptions and dinners throughout the conference.

Networking-Conf-RecapSupply chain professionals with food shippers networked among their peers and providers during breaks, networking receptions, and dinners during the annual FSA conference.

Of course, the annual Golf Tournament also took place Sunday at the Waldorf Astoria Golf Club. There were some bogeys, slices, eagles, long drives – and unfortunately some rain as well – but good fun and solid networking happened during the tournament. Thanks to the Golf Committee for their hard work: Justin Allen of Andrus Transportation and Scott Anderson of Halvor Lines.

Golf-Conf-RecapThe annual Golf Tournament took place Sunday at the Waldorf Astoria Golf Club. Congrats to 1st place winners during the annual Food Shippers Golf Tournament: Carter Garrett, Grayson Garrett, Mark Harrel, and Scott Massey.

In addition, Steve Stein of Danone, FSA’s Chairman of the Board, announced Scott Dunlap as 1st Place winner of FSA’s 2024 Scholarship Program.

Scholarship-Conf-RecapThis year, Scott Dunlap was named the 1st Place winner of Food Shippers of America’s 2024 Scholarship Program – a program with is financially supported in part by the non-dues revenue generated from advertising in Food Chain Digest, the official magazine of FSA.

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