Grocery wholesalers are now convened in Orlando, Fla., for the National-American Wholesale Grocers' Association annual business conference, but it won't happen again. "Next year at this time we'll be talking about the FDI convention," John Block, NAWGA's president and chief executive officer, told me late last week. How's that; FDI? There are some subtleties here, but the trade association that has been known as NAWGA for more than 60 years and as NAWGA/IFDA (International Foodservice Distributors Association) for nearly 30 years has a new name, Food Distributors International. Or at least at this writing, that was the anticipation. The boards were to have taken a vote on the matter Saturday with success fully in prospect "unless there is a palace uprising," Jack said. So that's it for the names NAWGA and IFDA? Well, not really. Jack told me the names NAWGA and IFDA will survive, with the new FDI name layered over the top as an "umbrella."
"FDI is the new name of the two organizations together, so to speak, and it may be that FDI will become accepted as the name for this food-distribution association," he said. "But neither NAWGA nor IFDA will fade in the short term because both groups have strong beliefs in what they do."
As the politics surrounding a name change point out, it's a big step to change a trade association's name, especially a name as historic as NAWGA. That name has been in use since 1933, at which time it was coined in connection with the merger of the National Wholesale Grocers' Association and the American Wholesale Grocers' Association. The former group was founded in 1906, which means NAWGA is celebrating its 90th anniversary at this week's convention. Another merger occurred in 1969 when the U.S. Wholesaler Grocers Association, an organization that included the Institutional Food Distributors of America, was merged into NAWGA. That resulted in the food service branch of NAWGA, still called IFDA, which is meeting this week in tandem with NAWGA, as usual. A commemorative news feature about the 90 years of NAWGA is in this issue of SN. The article is referenced off the front page and begins on Page 9. Also, a preconvention interview with Jack Block can be seen starting on Page 18.
But what of the new and efficient "umbrella" name for the trade association? It's probably a good idea for several reasons, and here are a few:
The wholesale side of the business has become highly concentrated, especially in terms of the dollar concentration possessed by Fleming Cos. and Supervalu. That means FDI's chief prospects for growth must come from the food-service side, and the new name seems more inclusive.
Food service is growing in importance for retailers and wholesalers, so food-service expertise will increasingly be sought by all branches of the industry. That means any step taken to integrate expertise should prove beneficial.
And, NAWGA/IFDA is simply too complex a string of letters and an explanation of what the organization is all about is often required. This causes difficulties in activities such as lobbying.
So, it seems, it might be premature to bid farewell to NAWGA/IFDA, but not a moment too soon to welcome FDI to our industry's alphabet soup.
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