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United Fresh Offers
Executive Development Program

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, November 21, 2006

United Fresh Produce Association, through its Research and Education Foundation, announced that it would offer the United Fresh Produce Executive Development Program. The program was designed under the auspices of Ed McLaughlin, Director of the Food Industry Management Program, and Robert G. Tobin, Professor of Marketing at Cornell University, and the idea for the program grew out of the United Fresh Business Development Council. The program is being marketed as a “partnership” between United Fresh and Cornell.

Cornell does similar programs for other industries. Ed is enormously respected and has worked in the produce trade for decades.

The good Professor has been kind enough to have the Pundit lecture his marketing class at Cornell, and we did a joint presentation many years ago at a PMA convention focused on a piece of research Ed did for the PMA.

If it wasn’t a quality program, Ed wouldn’t be involved. Which means the industry can only gain from the results of people attending this program.

And United is brave. The program is in some sense a sequel to United’s wildly successful Leadership Program. The Pundit has long contended that this program, more than any other thing, saved United at a perilous moment in its history. The year-long program of successive annual “classes” inculcated in many young leaders of the industry a loyalty to United. Its importance cannot be overestimated.

The Leadership Program, however, is sponsored by a grant from DuPont. This means three things: First it is free. Second, there is no need to raise money by attracting lots of attendees; they usually only have 12 fellows per class. Third, they have the money for a year-long program, which really helps build intense personal connections between members of each class.

Now United is betting that members of the produce industry will line up 40 executives each year and pay anywhere from $4,995 to $8,500 per person to attend. The variance in price is based on when one enrolls and membership status. They also require the commitment of five consecutive nights at the program.

Participants lose the “exclusivity” of being “selected” for a class because the price will require United to accept people on a first-come, first-served basis.

And, without that year long exposure the networking component, though still there, is abbreviated.

The Pundit wishes United every good fortune. No produce industry function has ever succeeded in selling itself for this price. If it succeeds it will, without a doubt, be a symbol that the produce industry has reached a new level of sophistication.

The announcement of this program follows PMA’s recent announcement of the Board of Directors of its own Education Foundation. Among those directors: none other than the same Ed McLaughlin of Cornell University.

The program also follows many years in which PMA has offered its Leadership Symposium, a more abbreviated program (three nights in Dallas) at a lower price — $2,395 to $5,200. That program is also done in “partnership’ with Cornell and was designed under the auspices of Ed McLaughlin and the Cornell Food Industry Management Program.

Obviously the programs are different. But they are not sufficiently different in any obvious way that makes everyone understand what the differences are or who should attend which meeting or whether one should try both. In other words, the United program isn’t specifically geared toward growers, and PMA’s program isn’t geared specifically toward retailers. United’s effort isn’t geared toward training public speakers during a food safety crisis, and PMA’s effort isn’t geared toward turning out effective produce marketers.

We’ve been discussing the relationship between PMA and United here, here, here, here, here, here and here. If the program pays its way, none of this may matter. It means there was an unserved niche and United grabbed it. But if it sells at a level where industry funds wind up being used to support the program, this is where industry concerns about duplication and waste come into play.

It is interesting to note that United has a Business Development Council. It seems similar to a group a commercial business might have looking for new business opportunities. Yet it seems problematic for an association. One would think “business development” would be incidental to an association, that programs and services would grow naturally out of membership needs.

One senses that the associations are pretty much done with the idea of being non-competitive or working in separate spheres. We may be in for several years of outright competition.

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