National Editor Tom Karst chatted May 2 at the United Fresh 2012 show in Dallas with Steffanie Smith, immediate past chairwoman of United Fresh, and chief executive officer River Point Farms LLC, Hermiston, Ore.
Tom Karst: Where would you say merger negotiations are between United Fresh and the Produce Marketing Association right now
Steffanie Smith: We are trying to get things agreed to. We are bound by significant confidentiality agreements we have all signed and so the hard part is that it is just incredibly disappointing that people are sending out information that there is an agreement. There are things that are being discussed.
Karst: So the task force has not made an official recommendation?
Smith: Absolutely. There was a dialogue and we are continuing our discussions.
Karst: Would you say one board is farther along in the process at this point?
Smith: The timing is challenging. PMA’s board isn’t until June. So we are talking about concepts and talking about things.
There was no vote (at the United Fresh Board of Directors meeting). There were discussion points and next steps. There are three significant things that need to be discussed and those weren’t discussed. So there are significant pieces that are still being addressed.
Again, there is still much work to be done and discussion to be had and we are doing our best to serve members and making sure that everybody’s needs are addressed and followed through.
Karst: Will it be a challenge with new members of the United Fresh board of directors to get them up to speed with the process?
Smith: Both associations have associations to run and associations to lead and so both associations are running status quo, running their business as it is set forth.
So we are seating a new board. There is not assumption at this point that something is going to happen. We’re not changing anything we do in terms of how we run our business.
Karst: Do you think these merger talks are at a place where they have not been ever before — that is, closer to completion?
Smith: Certainly by the fact that we are continuing the discussions and that we are continuing the dialogue is a good sign we are continuing to move forward, we are continuing to do due diligence, continuing those efforts.
Karst: Is the concept of a “merger of equals” what you are shooting for in these discussions?
Smith: Again, I think both association want to continue to serve their members’ interests so we have got two healthy associations that are serving industry needs and both have members who find value in both and invest in both and belong in both for different reasons.
What we are continuing to spend a lot of time with is understanding what those reasons are, what does that look like and how do you really make sure those member interests are served and continue should we go forward.
That’s our fiduciary responsibility as board members, to ensure that we are representing the members of this association in meeting their expectations for that investment.