I was interviewing John Toner the other day at the United Fresh Produce Association expo in New Orleans when he mentioned that United Fresh has a "memorandum of understanding" with the Food Marketing Institute and the American Meat Institute. The document makes clear the intention of the groups to co-locate a trade show every other even year through 2020; i.e. 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2020.
As I can discern the meaning, the elegant-sounding "memorandum of understanding" signals the intent to do a particular action but leaves room for other outcomes.
The ever-helpful Wikipedia states that the MOU "expresses a convergence of will between the parties, indicating an intended common line of action. It is a more formal alternative to a gentlemen's agreement."
Or, as I might imagine it:
"We agree on this, capish?"
"Until something changes, let's do this, savvy?"
I wouldn't put my mortgage on it, but I have to say the chances of the United-FMI "MOU" being in play by 2020 as pretty slim.
Between now and 2020, it is possible that either Tom Stenzel or Bryan Silbermann – or both - could retire from their organizations. When that happens, the future of both groups will hang in the balance. Not immediately, of course, but in due time, with irreversible certainty.
Will the man or woman who fills the shoes of United Fresh president Tom Stenzel have the bulldog tenacity to cede no quarter to PMA despite the challenges of matching its marketing heft?
Will the man or woman who replaces Bryan Silbermann have the outsized sense of purpose to continue to pursue a vigorous government relations presence in Washington D.C.?
I know each organization is "member driven," of course, but you can't argue that the leadership personalities and profiles of Stenzel and Silbermann cast a long shadow over the directions of the groups.
In advance of the still-distant leadership transition, perhaps "memorandum of understanding" should be created between United Fresh and the Produce Marketing Association.
It wouldn't be one group establishing an upper hand over another, as if one stating to another: "We're the best thing since prepackaged produce. Deal with it."
No, the memorandum of understanding would be worded to spell out areas of mutual interest and purpose. it would pledge to cooperate, not compete, for the benefit of the industry.
I know I'm not plowing new ground here. Many people have given voice to the notion that the two national groups could more effectively use industry resources by combining efforts for food safety resources, government relations, industry events, etc.