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The Produce Marketing Association (PMA) and the United Fresh Produce Association yesterday announced their plans to merge and "create a new global trade association combining their resources and expertise to enhance member services, increase advocacy before government and the public, help members grow their businesses, and drive consumption of fresh produce and demand for floral products as a vital cornerstone of public health."

The agreement is that PMA and United Fresh will operate as independent entities through the end of this year, and then launch the new, combined organization on January 1, 2022.  Cathy Burns, PMA's CEO, and Tom Stenzel, United Fresh's CEO, will then serve as co-CEOs through 2022, with Burns becoming sole CEO in January 2023.

This is not the first time that the two organizations have announced the intention to merge.  In 2012, after discussions about a potential merger, they called it off, saying that they were "unable to agree on an acceptable joint association model that would meet both member and industry needs."  There also were reports that one of the stumbling blocks was an inability to figure out who the new CEO of a combined entity would be.

“Through my 28 years of service to our industry, I have long recognized the potential synergies of our groups building something powerful together,” Stenzel said in a prepared statement. “It is gratifying to me several years before my retirement to find a strong and committed partner in Cathy who also believes in this shared vision. I’m looking forward to launching this new organization together, setting the stage to enhance member value while driving greater produce consumption in the years ahead.”

“By joining forces, we will continue to support our members with the services, insights, and connections they seek to grow their businesses while ensuring our role and voice as an industry has an even greater impact,” Burns said. “Tom has been a great partner, and I truly appreciate his deep history, knowledge, and care for our industry. We, along with our talented teams, look forward to leveraging our strengths to serve our diverse and complex supply chain. I am so proud and honored to serve the produce and floral community at such a pivotal time in our history.”

The agreement between the two organizations focuses on a number of strategic commitments, including:  "To serve all sectors of the global fresh produce and floral supply chains, growing our global membership and participation … to government advocacy and leadership to build and maintain a positive business climate in the United States and the North American market so critical to our members’ success … to global engagement with international bodies and allied organizations to promote free and fair trade, international harmonization of standards, and worldwide growth in consumption …  to providing expertise and business solutions in food safety, new technology, supply chain management, sustainability, leadership and talent development, business operations, marketing and more … to bringing all sectors of our diverse supply chain together to better understand our interconnections and support efficiency and profitability throughout the chain … to enhance business-to-business sales and marketing connections across the produce and floral supply chains … (and) "to demand creation to inspire consumers to embrace produce and floral products as essential parts of their lives, while increasing profitable sales of members’ products."

KC's View:

There would seem to be a number of circumstances leading to this decision, and, I suspect, similar negotiations and decision that may be undertaken by other trade associations.  Many of them have been slammed by the pandemic - if they depended on in-person events for a great deal of their revenue, it has been as very tough year, and many of them could go as long as two years before being able to get back to a full schedule of live events.

When I talk to folks about this stuff, there are some common themes - that the people who run these organizations (and their boards) have to look for both aligned purpose and a willingness to innovate around (and sometimes beyond) their business models.  The timing has to be right, they have to be a little lucky, and there has to be a willingness to abandon ego for the greater good.  

The metaphor that occurs to me is that of musical chairs, and the question is who is going to be left without a place to sit when the music stops.