There is widespread industry disappointment but perhaps not surprise over the outcome of another failed round of merger talks between United Fresh Produce Association and the Produce Marketing Association.

There have been previous attempts to bring the two national produce associations together, most recently in 2007 and in 1995.

Industry senses missed merger opportunity   “As a member of both organizations, I’m quite disappointed the talks failed and they weren’t able to come together with an agreement,” said Jim Allen, president of the Fishers-based New York Apple Association.

“The winners of one combined organization certainly would be the members, and I was looking forward to the benefits that would have provided us,” Allen said. “It is too bad that it is not going to happen.”

The latest round of talks is the fourth or fifth time the goal of a merger between United Fresh and PMA has fallen short, said Anthony Totta, business development and marketing expert for FreshXperts, Kansas City, Mo. The majority of industry leaders Totta knows supported the merger, he said.

Nancy Foster, president of the Vienna, Va.-based U.S. Apple Association, said she thought the merger may helped the industry.

“It would have really helped focus the produce message,” she said.

While U.S. Apple remains a strong supporter of both groups, she said it was a shame to be get so close to a merger but come away without success.

“It just seems like a lost opportunity.”

There was substantial support for a merger, said Bruce Peterson, former senior vice president and general merchandise manager of perishables for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Bentonville, Ark., and chief executive officer of Glennville, Ga.,-based Bland Farms. Peterson has served on both the United Fresh and the PMA boards.

“If the only reason (for the merger to fail) was who was going to be the CEO, then I think that is a difficult pill for the industry to swallow,” he said.

Totta said he believes one obstacle to a merger has been because both organizations are in the Washington, D.C., region.

“I think the lane where there is way too much overlap is the lane of trying to represent the industry politically,” said Totta, who urges the groups to revisit their business model and reexamine roles.

“They need to come up with a way of satisfying the needs of the industry without duplicating costs,” he said.

Totta said some have suggested that PMA and United Fresh have their conventions in alternating years rather than having two conventions each year.