Last year saw another failed merger discussion between the Produce Marketing Association and the United Fresh Produce Association.
While the two groups are duplicating each other in some roles, I do not think a merger is the solution.
Instead, I would suggest that the two organizations could potentially better serve our industry by rediscovering their original roots, having PMA help fund policy development and government relations efforts by United, and merging the United trade show into a division of the PMA show.
The Produce Prepackaging Association started in 1949 and changed its name to PMA in 1958, the year Bob Carey became the PMA executive secretary.
During the three decades of Carey’s leadership, the PMA seemed sharply focused on service to produce retailers, helping improve handling and increase sales:
- In the 1960s, PMA helped develop produce packaging and convince consumers to accept prepackaged produce.
- As I entered the industry some 35 years ago, PMA was continuing to directly serve produce retailers, promoting increased consumption through initiatives like its Nutrition Task Force.
- Through the 1990s, PMA continued promotion efforts to improve retail sales, administered Price Look-Up codes, trained the industry in proper produce handling and founded the Produce for Better Health Foundation.
After Bob Carey retired in 1996, Bryan Silbermann became chief executive officer of PMA.
According to the PMA website, “In the 21st century, PMA continues its focus to build and enhance a strong global produce and floral supply chain by expanding the services offered to members in the areas of government and public affairs, food safety and security, improving the application of technology, and increasing training and networking resources for industry professionals.”
I think the PMA could better serve the industry by refocusing its efforts on increasing produce consumption and serving the retailer. That means PMA’s efforts should focus in the produce aisles and packinghouses, not in legislative hallways.
But we do need a voice speaking for the industry in policy discussions. Public policy has had a greater and greater effect upon food merchandising during my time in the industry.
For policy, United has long served as the voice of the produce industry, beginning in 1904.
The first goal that United lists on its website is “leadership in government relations, issues management and media advocacy.”
We all remember that United established its current organization in 2006, when the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association merged with the International Fresh-Cut Produce Association.
Tom Stenzel has long served in United’s leadership and as a voice for the produce industry in Washington.
United Fresh has partnered with PMA on many produce industry initiatives throughout the years.
For example, the two groups were both involved in establishing the Produce Traceability Initiative. I think the industry would be better served by having United focus on influencing public policy, its historic strength and main purpose.
When the merger talks ended last July, The Packer reported that the question of who would be in charge was the major sticking point.
The PMA board wanted Silbermann to be the leader of the combined group while the United board wanted the position to remain open, creating a possibility for Stenzel to assume leadership.
The Packer even humorously proposed holding a reverse Dutch auction-style contest between Silbermann and Stenzel to decide which fellow should lead the group.
Bryan Silbermann and Tom Stenzel exercise a huge influence on behalf of our industry. I can understand why the issue of who would be in charge of a combined group became a sticking point.
But I suspect I am not the only one in the industry that thinks we would be better served if:
- PMA regained its focus on helping retailers sell more produce;
- United focused on public policy; and
- PMA directed funds toward United’s policy activities.
I am convinced the industry would be better served if one group relentlessly focused on increasing produce consumption and sales.
One major area in which the two groups could merge is to combine the two trade shows into one.
If the United Fresh show were to merge into a division of the PMA show, it would create one super show. I suspect that attendance at such a show would be outstanding and members of the two groups would be pleased with the savings in time and money of attending one show instead of two.
Another industry observer has suggested that a revenue sharing mechanism could make one national funding mechanism for the two groups, eliminate duplication, and keep two separate boards.
I would encourage serious conversation around such a proposal: a plan to keep PMA and United separate while staying focused on their original purpose to serve our industry.
Anthony Totta is vice chairman of Lee’s Summit, Mo.-based FreshXperts.
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