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    Swine Flu Pandemic Impacts Retailing

    FMI cancels conferences; gas demand down, online buzz up.

    NATIONAL REPORT -- The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) decided Thursday afternoon to cancel this week’s Future Connect and MarkeTechnics conferences in Dallas, citing its concern about the swine flu pandemic. The events were scheduled to be held back-to-back, from May 4-8 in Dallas, one of the cities most-affected by the recent outbreak.

    "The increased urgency of the alerts from health officials today and the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Dallas County Department of Health and Human Services confirmed our decision to not host a large gathering where attendees would be in close proximity," said Leslie G. Sarasin, president and CEO of FMI in a letter on the grocery industry trade association’s Web site. "We seek to support their recommended precautions and prevention steps and would not want to contribute to spread of the virus in any way."

    The organization said it was evaluating its options for rescheduling the events. This was to be the inaugural Future Connect event, after the association decided to conduct its traditional annual FMI trade show every other year, alternating with the Future Connect conference format.

    Meanwhile, Reuters reported that oil prices fell last week on concerns the swine flu outbreak could further depress fuel demand, already hard hit by the global financial crisis.

    The new strain of swine flu virus that has killed up to 149 people in Mexico has spread to more countries, including the United States, Israel and New Zealand.

    The flu has hit airline stocks on expectations travel will be curtailed, and analysts warned jet fuel demand may slump, citing the drop in consumption that corresponded to the SARS epidemic in 2003, according to Reuters.

    Oil demand has already tumbled due to the global economic crisis, which has sent prices off record highs over $147 a barrel in July. Some industry experts said that with demand already depressed, the effects of the swine flu could be muted compared with the impact of SARS.

    Last week, the AAA Arizona reported that the average price of gasoline across the state dropped a penny over the previous seven days to $1.90 per gallon—more than $1.50 less than motorists were paying last year at this time.

    According to a report by Havasunews.com, AAA Arizona Public Affairs Supervisor Michelle Donati stated the recent news of the swine flu has clearly affected the market. Crude oil rallied last week from $45 to $50 a barrel, but has stabilized at $50 this week, with the continuous talk of the swine flu spreading throughout the country.

    A report by Nielsen Wire about the swine flu (or H1N1 virus) observed that one of the most interesting developments has been watching the way people are using the Internet, and specifically social media, to connect with one another around this issue. As of yesterday, buzz volume about swine flu in the blogosphere was still on its meteoric climb, far surpassing discussion levels for the peanut butter / salmonella scare that happened earlier this year or, for a different reference point, recent pop singing sensation Susan Boyle.

    Related News:

    U.S. Refiners Prepare for Flu Emergency -- April 29, 2009

    FMI to Release New Research on Recession’s Impact at Retail -- April 26, 2009

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