Analysis: PMA, United Fresh keep talking on merger

06/08/2012 03:00:00 PM
Tom Karst

Three words said it all — and nothing.

With the e-mail message “talks are continuing,” Mike O’Brien, immediate past Produce Marketing Association chairman and vice president of produce and floral for Schnuck Markets Inc., St. Louis, summed up the status of merger discussions between United Fresh Produce Association and PMA.

Another e-mail from United Fresh came later: “After conferring with our board leaders, their only comment is that ‘talks between our associations are continuing.’”

United Fresh and PMA boards of directors members discussed the possible merger in a June 4 conference call that coincided with a PMA board meeting in Sonoma, Calif.

If nothing else illustrates the benefit of a unified national organization, it is perhaps these two e-mails.

In roles that are truly thankless so far, Steffanie Smith, former chief executive officer of River Point Farms, Hermiston, Ore., and immediate past chairwoman of United Fresh, and O’Brien have led a 12-member task force considering the merger.

They have not been able to share details of their work to find common ground between the two groups.

Redundant communications and duplicated efforts of PMA and United Fresh have led many industry leaders to believe the time is right for a merger of the two groups.

Sources said in May that large marketers have reportedly told United Fresh and PMA to find a way to get the deal done or they will pull their support from both groups.

Previous talks in the early 1990s and another set of talks 10 years ago didn’t make it to the finish line, but these current talks seem to have a better opportunity.

It is apparent that United Fresh and PMA leaders won’t share details of their discussions unless and until they have an agreement in hand. We assume those specifics will then be shared in detail.

If the agreement never comes, then the industry deserves to hear chapter and verse why the impulse to form a unified national trade organization again did not work out.

And members of both organizations deserve to know what’s going on and have some input.

Another three-word statement from PMA and United Fresh will not do.



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