ARLINGTON, VA. — Artificial intelligence (AI) and its impact on the consumer packaged goods industry, economics and the current political environment highlighted conversation at SNAC International’s 44th Annual Executive Leadership Forum.

The event, held virtually for the first time this year on Sept. 17-18, included more than 70 snack industry leaders, including 17 first-time attendees, 42 snack producers and 31 suppliers for two mornings of education and networking. The virtual event also included small Zoom breakout rooms for new members.

“I am proud that even in uncertain, difficult times SNAC International can still create a place of community and support for our members to learn and engage in meaningful discussion about the future,” said Elizabeth Avery, president and chief executive officer of SNAC International. “SNAC’s role of fostering relationship-building and learning opportunities only continues to grow, and we were pleased to still offer these pillars of member value in a virtual setting. Thank you to all of our sponsors for making the event possible.”

Brian Beaulieu, CEO and chief economist at ITR Economics, kicked off the first education session with a discussion on the economic outlook through and post COVID-19. Mr. Beaulieu told participants he expects a positive future economic outlook and believes the worst of COVID-19’s impact on the economy is over. He also predicted that the economy will not fully recover until 2022, but that it will recover and continue to grow.

Also speaking on the first day of the forum was Dan Bartlett, executive vice president of corporate affairs at Walmart, Inc., Bentonville, Ark. Mr. Bartlett provided insights on reputation management and the American public. He discussed the relationship between policy and business and stressed the importance of being a true community partner, how to regain stakeholders’ and consumers’ trust after a public crisis, and how to let core values guide business decisions.

The second day of the forum included a presentation from Jim Brennan and Taylor Smith, partners at the Boston Consulting Group. Mr. Brennan and Mr. Smith discussed how the snack industry can use AI to organize promotions, analyze consumer behavior, predict trends, test R&D, personalize transactions and build loyalty. Following the session, attendees participated in breakout discussions focusing on the business impact of COVID-19.

The conference closed with a keynote panel discussion featuring Mark McKinnon, political adviser and television producer, and Paul Begala, political analyst and commentator for CNN, who provided insider analysis of the volatile political climate and upcoming election. Mr. McKinnon and Mr. Begala presented balanced perspectives on current issues, election projections and polling, the media’s relationship to its audiences, mail-in ballots, and COVID-19’s effect on the 2020 election.

“The strength and vibrancy of our association were fully evident in the success of our Executive Livestream Forum,” said Rob Sarlls, chairman of SNAC International and president and CEO of Wyandot, Inc. “From highly engaging virtual coffee gatherings, to phenomenal speakers covering everything from snacking in the age of COVID to the very dynamic political landscape, and to recounting the continued strong presence of SNAC on Capitol Hill, we continue to effectively fulfill our Three Pillars of Advocacy, Education and Networking.”