ORLANDO, Fla. -- In a surprise move here, the board of directors of the National-American Wholesale Grocers' Association last week rejected the effort for a joint convention with the National Grocers Association.
The vote, held before NAWGA's Annual Business Conference and Partners Program here, derailed the momentum for a linked NAWGA-NGA event that had been building for years. It came concurrently with the board's approval, as expected, of a new name for NAWGA's umbrella organization. The new title is Food Distributors International, which incorporates NAWGA and the International Foodservice Distributors Association, NAWGA's sister organization covering food service. (For more on the conference, see Pages 1 and 66.)
Just a couple of weeks before the vote rejecting a linked convention, John Block, president and chief executive officer of Falls Church, Va.-based NAWGA, told SN that a joint convention will be "the final crown" on a process that has involved years of talks. The linkage attempt was fueled by the need to reduce association duplication and build closer alliances between trading partners. The board was expected to approve a joint arrangement of some sort beginning in 1999, although NGA had been pushing for 1998. The arrangement was expected to keep the identity of each conference intact.
Last week's turnaround resulted from concern by NAWGA board members that a joint program would hurt the central goals of the NAWGA event. For instance, some members were concerned wholesalers and suppliers wouldn't have time to conduct their meetings and other business if they also had to meet with NGA retail members and attend the NGA showfloor exhibits, Block said in an interview with SN.
"As a result, the board said we probably won't put together a joint meeting for 1998 or 1999. They said don't do it now," he said. "But the board was still open-minded to talking to NGA to help NAWGA put renewed emphasis on independents, so we can focus on the customer."
Block stressed that NAWGA needs to find new ways to focus on retailers. He noted the vote keeps the door open for NGA and NAWGA to consolidate selected meetings, seminars or other forums to reduce duplication. In addition, he said NAWGA may seek other alliances.
"The American Wholesale Marketers Association in Washington could be one such example," he said. "We have some common members. There could be opportunities there." In a statement, Thomas Zaucha, president of NGA, Reston, Va., expressed regret about the move but held out hope for alliances of some form between the groups. He noted that the NGA board had voted to bring NAWGA into a joint arrangement for 1998.
"We are disappointed with NAWGA's decision not to go forward," he said. "However, we still feel there may be other significant opportunities for joint efficiency and consolidation. In the meantime, NGA will continue to pursue these areas with the Food Marketing Institute, Washington, as well as with NAWGA."