Are two produce industry trade groups better than one?
, after months of serious self-examination in the latter half of 1995 over whether one group makes more sense.
Produce industry players have been complaining for several years that the existence of two national produce trade associations -- the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association and the Produce Marketing Association -- creates needless overlap of services and activities, and an unacceptable drain on industry resources.
In 1995 this discontent bubbled over into open debate and the most intense round of negotiations ever between the leaderships of PMA and United over the prospect of merging completely, or combining their two annual conventions into a single trade show.
The issue was raised amid a larger climate of cost-cutting and soul-searching that seemed to favor consolidation of trade show activities. For example, in 1995 the National Grocers Association agreed to piggyback its annual convention onto the Food Marketing Institute's MarkeTechnics conference starting in 1997. Breaking the news at the FMI annual convention in May, NGA President Tom Zaucha said the primary reasoning behind it was the benefit of cross-attendance.
Also in 1995 the American Meat Institute, the International Dairy Food Association and the Dairy and Food Industries Supply Association all agreed to locate their conventions at the same time and place in 1997.
While all this clumping of trade events was going on, merger proposals were batted back and forth between PMA and United from July to October.
The negotiations got off to a rocky start. At the executive committee meeting of PMA's board in Santa Barbara, Calif., in August, UFFVA board members, present as guests, were served a proposal whereby their association would be folded into a new "expanded PMA," built upon a foundation of non-negotiable terms such as a single show, PMA's; the retention of PMA elements such as current staff, headquarters and ratio of membership favoring buyers, and the creation of a separate lobbying entity for grower interests, funded by PMA and other industry interests.
PMA's position was clear. As a successful, vital association, it had little to gain by diluting its own identity and mission.
But after several rounds of counterproposals, rejections and disappointments, both associations threw in the towel, announcing at PMA's convention in October that they'd failed to find a negotiable path to any merger, at least for the foreseeable future.
The prime question that had to be answered was, can a single association serve the interests of both retailers and grower-shippers? Those interests are not necessarily compatible, so for now the answer must be no.