After years of rivalry and conflict, the leaders of the two major national trade associations for the produce industry say the groups are finding common ground.
Long accused by industry leaders of duplicating efforts, the groups, the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del., and the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association, Alexandria, Va., are now working together in several areas.
At the same time, they are focusing on
their own missions in a move to differentiate themselves and to prove to their members that there is decidedly room, and a need, for two such associations.
"We've really torn down the barriers of divisiveness between the two organizations," said Tom Stenzel, president of United, who has been with the trade association for just over a year now.
SN interviewed Stenzel and Robert Carey, president of PMA, to find out where they see their associations heading.
"A few years ago, there was pretty intense rivalry between the two groups,"said Stenzel. "There was a feeling of 'them against us' and 'us against them.' I think the relationship has changed for the better. There is really no hostility now."
Carey, who has been president of PMA for 35 years, agreed. "The relationship is probably the best it's ever been," he said.
The changes were sparked in large part by a letter from 18 industry leaders in March 1993 to both groups charging that the trade associations "created services and programs that are duplicative, unnecessarily expensive and occasionally counterproductive." The letter called for a joint evaluation of programs and services to cut out the fat.
The letter pinpointed virtually every aspect of the work of the two associations, including issues management, public affairs, international trade, food service, consumer education, public relations, product promotion, retail training and convention exhibitions.
Since then, the executive committees of PMA and United have met four times to investigate ways to work together.
Industry executives who signed the March 1993 letter told SN they are pleased with the progress that has been made.
"The first step in the process was to open up meaningful dialogue between the volunteer leaders and professional staff of the two organizations," said David Marguleas, senior vice president of marketing at Sun World International, Coachella, Calif. "That has certainly been accomplished in the last 12 months."
Marguleas, who is a member of PMA's executive committee, said the staffs of each association now work together in numerous areas to ensure that programs and services, whether existing or planned for the future, do not duplicate efforts or waste resources.
"The most important thing is that dialogue remains open, particularly between the staffs," he said.
Dave Riggs, president of the California Strawberry Commission, Watsonville, Calif., agreed with Marguleas, but added that he believes the associations will continue to compete in some areas.
"United and PMA are doing a much better job of communicating together and allocating the challenges that affect the industry," said Riggs, a member of both PMA and United, and a signatory to the industry letter. "There will probably always be some overlap to be expected. But I'm positive about how the organizations are dividing the tasks."
Have the associations addressed the concerns in the letter?
"It's an ongoing process," said Riggs. "It will probably be a never-ending task. The purpose of the letter was to get that task started. I feel that has been accomplished."
Carey and Stenzel said that both associations have already taken several steps to eliminate duplication.
One came in June when United moved to discontinue its 41-year-old produce promotion program, the Fresh Approach, and to throw its support behind the 5 a Day program, which is jointly run by the Produce for Better Health Foundation and the National Cancer Institute.
The Fresh Approach had been funded by industry contributions to the tune of $250,000 annually.
Stenzel said the consumer promotion program was seen by many in the industry as competing for funds with the 5 a Day program, which encourages consumers to eat five or more servings of fresh produce each day.
The 5 a Day program received nearly $700,000 in industry contributions in 1993 and has a goal of $1.3 million this year.
Like PMA, United is a founding member of 5 a Day and supports the program with an annual contribution of $20,000.
To show its additional support, United's chairman-elect, Tim Fleming, vice president of Strube Celery & Vegetable Co., Chicago, recently sent a letter to almost 1,000 past supporters of the Fresh Approach encouraging them to allocate to 5 a Day the money they would have donated to United's program.
United also turned over the list of past supporters of Fresh Approach to the Produce for Better Health Foundation to use for fund-raising.
Stenzel said it's still too early to measure the results of the effort, but he added that he's optimistic the industry will respond with increased support for 5 a Day.
Another positive move came when both groups agreed to dissolve the Center for Produce Quality, a Washington-based foundation set up in 1988 and funded by members of PMA and United to handle public relations issues during food safety crises. The groups created a joint task force instead to handle emergencies as needed.
"Originally, the CPQ was really an effort to force United and PMA to work together," said Carey. "It's appropriate that we've dissolved the CPQ because the two associations can now do the work together without a formal structure. We communicate well together without being forced to."
One of the first jobs of the task force was to develop an industry response to a national television report on pesticides in produce that aired last May on the CBS program "48 Hours."
Government lobbying and regulatory activities, long considered by United to be its domain, are two areas where the associations continue to draw a distinction.
PMA has been involved in some lobbying and regulatory issues, primarily in the areas of nutrition labeling, pesticide residues and food safety. The association has had a director of issues management who, on occasion, has lobbied Congress on bills related to those issues. That position became vacant in June, and Carey said he's not sure how -- or if -- it will be filled.
He said PMA is still trying to determine its precise role in government issues but knows that it does not intend to duplicate United's efforts.
"We do not intend to get involved in lobbying [or] to testify in front of Senate or congressional hearings," Carey said. "We have and will continue to support United. There's a need for us to be involved in some issues like nutrition, pesticides and food safety because they affect the merchandising of our products. But we don't necessarily need to be the lead player."
Stenzel called this is an important differentiation. "The government affairs role at United is probably the single most important distinction that we offer the industry and what sets us apart from PMA," he said. "It's very clear that we are the only national organization that represents produce companies in Washington.
"We're very encouraged to see that PMA does not intend to duplicate the legislative and regulatory role that United plays," Stenzel said.
In terms of industry training, which continues to be a key area of concern for supermarket produce executives, both Stenzel and Carey said their staff members who develop retail training programs are working closely to avoid duplication.
While the trade groups have been looking to create efficiencies from without, at least one of the groups is making internal changes. According to United's Stenzel, the infamous letter to the two associations prompted his group to "go through a really strong evaluation of who we are, who we represent and what the industry really expects us to accomplish."
In June, after months of board meetings and member surveys, United established new priorities aimed at positioning the association as the Washington representative of producers and shippers first and foremost, rather than as a trade group giving equal representation to all segments of the fresh produce industry.
This is an important distinction, said PMA's Carey, who pointed out that his association's focus has been on serving the needs of the retail and food-service produce buyers and mass market floral buyers.
While membership in both associations is open to all segments of the industry, both executives said they strongly disagree with those who say the two trade associations represent the same industry.
"We represent our membership," Carey said. "Hopefully, what the members need and want is good for the industry. But once you start thinking of only the industry, you usually end up going broke."
"You can't be all things to all people," Stenzel said, adding that United's goal is not to exclude any segment. Providing retailers with services and programs is also very important, he said. "If we can't provide service and value to the retail community, then we're falling down on our second priority, which is customer service and building stronger trade relations."
The charges of duplication may be somewhat exaggerated, Carey said. Many industry members contend that PMA and United share the same members, he said, when in fact there is only about a 25% membership duplication. "That means 75% of our members don't belong to United and 75% of United's members don't belong to PMA," he said.
Some similarities between United and PMA probably will never go away. Both associations pledge in their respective mission statements, for example, to provide educational programming as well opportunities for different segments of the industry to mix and network.
"We've certainly agreed with the industry mandate to work together where it makes sense, work alongside each other where it makes sense and differentiate ourselves and provide the industry with different things where it makes sense," Stenzel said. "You have to ask who is doing it better. That's where a little competition is a good thing, as long as there's not duplication. Let the marketplace decide which programs to choose."
"Again," said Carey, "75% of our members are not members of United and vice versa. We're serving different groups. There will always be the perception of overlap when two organizations are doing the same types of activities."
Both Carey and Stenzel said closer collaboration has had tremendous benefits in improving efficiencies. But, they added, building the relationship has had challenges.
"It's always a little more difficult the more players you have," said Carey.
United We Produce
The two produce industry organizations below have been working together more closely while maintaining separate identities. Here are some facts and figures supplied by each.
Produce Marketing United Fresh Fruit & Veg.
Staff 48 28
Members 2,361 1,800
Membership 32% grower/shipper 34% grower/shipper
breakdown 26% wholesaler 20% terminal mkt./wholesale
15% service provider 13% broker/agent
9% supermarket 12% packaging/equipment/
7% broker svc. provider/transport.
2% food service 5% retail
9% other 3% food service/distributor
2% service wholesale
2% food-service operator
Budget $6.7 mil. $4 mil.
revenue 50% annual convention 44% annual convention
& exposition & exposition
25% membership dues 35% membership dues
25% other programs 21% other programs
& services & services
PMA:To create a favorable, responsible environment that advances the marketing of produce and floral products and services for North American buyers and sellers and their international partners
UFFVA: To ensure a meeting place for industry members, customers, suppliers and groups to exchange ideas and to network; to promote to government and the media the interests of sellers of commercial quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables; to educate the public by promoting the benefits of increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables; and to assist the members and their employees to enhance their professional development by increasing their knowledge and that of their customers and suppliers in regard to the conduct of commerce in the global fresh fruit and vegetable industry.