Probably good news for the American food consumer1 – the GMA is crumbling.
A succession of high-profile, global companies have terminated their memberships with the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA)—the self-professed “voice of the industry”—rapidly undoing some 110 years of work the trade association had done to amass influence in US politics. In July 2017, as first reported by Politico, the Campbell Soup Company decided to leave GMA by the start of 2018, saying the trade association no longer represented its views. Three months later, the world’s largest food company, Nestlé, announced it was following suit. Then the floodgates opened, with Dean Foods, Mars, Tyson Foods, Unilever, the Hershey Company, Cargill, the Kraft Heinz Company, and DowDuPont all opting to leave, as well.
These high-profile departures will likely cost GMA millions of dollars in lost membership dues; one top lobbyist with a former member company speculates the association may lose about half of its former financial might. In 2016, GMA reported spending nearly $35 million on lobbying initiatives.
Publicly, the companies that left GMA are mostly vague about their reasons for defection. Privately, though, their executives have complained about disagreements with management, arthritic association bylaws, and a seeming unwillingness to budge on issues. As the lobbyist puts it, rather than trying to evolve with consumer demand, GMA leadership chose instead to be pugnacious about issues like GMO transparency and improved food-package ingredient labeling.
New York University nutrition and food studies professor Marion Nestle says a wounded GMA is unequivocally a good thing for everyday people eager for better access to information about the foods they’re eating.
“The positions that GMA took were really, really retrogressive on a range of consumer issues,” Nestle says. “All these companies are trying to position themselves as being consumer-friendly.”
(click here to continue reading Food manufacturers are leaving the Grocery Manufacturers Association, signaling an end of the Big Food era — Quartz.)
From Ms. Nestle a few months ago:
What’s going on? Easy. GMA just isn’t keeping up with today’s marketplace.
- Companies are increasingly under pressure to find growth in a market where more and more consumers are seeking healthier fare, whether they’re buying organic baby food, cereal without artificial colors or meats raised without antibiotics.
- As legacy brands lag, food companies have two options: Change to compete or buy up the new brands that are already growing rapidly.
- With each episode of discord, both internally and publicly, it becomes harder for GMA to convince its members to pay fees to belong to a trade group that’s rife with division and, at times, fights against issues they either don’t want fought or don’t want to be associated with.
- “More than one food industry lobbyist has told me that they spend more time lobbying their industry association than they do Capitol Hill,” said Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group.
- Many in Washington think GMA has been tone deaf as it has, in some cases, kept up lavish spending even as its members are cutting costs and laying off workers to meet their quarterly targets.
- “I don’t know a single challenger brand that’s said ‘hey, I need to join GMA,’” said John Foraker, the founder and former CEO of Annie’s.
My favorite quote comes from Jeff Nedelman, who was a VP of communications at GMA during the 1980s and ’90s: “To me, it looks like GMA is the dinosaur just waiting to die.”
(click here to continue reading Food Politics by Marion Nestle » GMA(Grocery Manufacturers Association).)
- i.e., people who eat [↩]