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IFPA: The politics of mergers


When it comes to the mechanics of the PMA and United Fresh merger, there’s no disputing that it was a massive undertaking.

“All mergers are painful, and the teams of both associations have had to endure the pain of extreme change,” acknowledges Steve Grinstead, CEO at FreshEdge, LLC in Indianapolis, IN. “Cathy and Tom did an awesome job of leading the group through that journey, but it’s tough.”

“It’s positive overall, and it’s good for the industry that they’re moving forward in a more coordinated manner,” says Kevin Brooks, chief revenue and marketing officer at Procurant BB #:355257 in Watsonville, CA, who has been engaged with both PMA and United Fresh for more than a decade.

“They’re doing a good job of integrating in the ways important to us, like traceability, Food Safety Modernization Act rules, grower adoption tech, and retail thinking about the supply chain,” he explains. “Those were important to both organizations and now to the joined organization.”

But Brooks, like other industry experts, points out that the two organizations had different missions and different cultures. “PMA was the big glitzy one, and United Fresh was more policy-oriented,” he says.

One of the biggest concerns from industry members who are less positive about the direction of the merged organization to date is their perception of an unequal footing between PMA and United Fresh during the integration.

Both organizations had distinct priorities, constituencies, and strengths and weaknesses, and it’s been said PMA’s side of things or agenda is taking precedence.

“United Fresh really got lost in the merger,” says one industry leader.

Another fear among observers is that the combined organization that is now the International Fresh Produce Association BB #:378962, is not spending enough time on developing year-round relationships with its members beyond the shows, as United Fresh did in the past.

“If they don’t do this, they will lose members to smaller regional organizations,” comments one produce industry member. “It’s not the same as before, where it was a true member organization. It’s more transactional now, and not authentic.”

“I understand the possible benefits of the merger and was actually suggesting it for years,” says another produce industry executive. “I also know that competition can keep companies sharp and humble. I hope we’re able to see more of United Fresh’s culture and service attitude shine through.

“It was positioned as a merger, but it feels more like an acquisition,” he adds.

This is an excerpt from the cover story in the September/October 2023 issue of Produce Blueprints Magazine. Click here to read the whole issue.