Our piece, Watch History Being Made At United In Las Vegas: Steffanie Smith Becomes First Ex-Staffer Ever To Chair The Organization; Kroger’s Reggie Griffin Is Set Up To Become First Retailer To Chair United, explored the skills, abilities and experience of three recent leaders of United Fresh and the impact of these people and personalities on issues of association relations and industry representation.
In the course of the piece, we mentioned that Reggie Griffin, Vice President of Produce Merchandising at The Kroger Company, was becoming chairman-elect of United and thus was set up to become the first retail chairman of United.
We should have said of the United Fresh Produce Association or of United in the modern era.
Allen Brock of Publix was chairman of the old United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association back in 1981, and Richard Jahnke, of Wetterau, principally a wholesaler but with some retail stores, was Chairman, also of the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association, back in 1990.
United is trying to find us some earlier names and we will share them when we get them.
The Pundit gets three slaps with a wet noodle for not being completely clear, though, in this case, there was probably no significance to the error.
The questions raised by Reggie’s rise are two-fold:
To what degree is United’s role to represent growers of produce and to what degree, if any, will having a retailer heading the association conflict with this goal?
If a retailer can head United, then what, precisely, is it that prevents merger of United and PMA?
Of course, there may be another question in the background. Last time around, the issue was not so much Merger, yes or no; it was the terms of a merger that couldn’t be ironed out.
The United contingent wanted to sit down with a blank piece of paper and identify the best pieces of each organization from which to build a new organization.
The PMA contingent argued that it had a highly successful business model and that if a “Merger” took place, it should be more in the form of an acquisition, in which PMA would absorb United and reorganize as it wished.
Yet, when we see people like Reggie Griffin, who was on the board of PMA and, even more, Bruce Peterson, who was Chairman of PMA, serving on the United Board, it makes us think that the old distinctions are starting to not mean as much.
Down the road we see another issue. The produce trade has traditionally been enriched by vertical trade associations running down the supply chain. This is very different from most associations, such as FMI, the supermarket industry association, or NRA, the restaurant association, where the supply chain has no vote or policy involvement.
Yet our assessment of the new breed of produce executive at places like Wal-Mart is that these executives have little interest in produce and less expertise. Produce is another retail item to them, and they have great expertise in manipulating spread sheets, etc.
People like Dick Spezzano, Bob DiPiazza and Bruce Peterson they always imagined themselves as being in produce, if they ever were to leave their retail produce job, it was more likely they would go to work for a produce vendor than start selling some other category at retail. Many of the produce executives of today are punching a timecard and getting experience in perishables, but they identify themselves as primarily retail executives and when they finish their time in produce they expect to head up lawn mower sales or some such thing.
This raises the question of whether the next generation of retail produce executives will even be interested in being chairman of a produce association.
If not, that shift itself would have significant implications for the relationship of different associations within the industry.