More big names leave the GMA: 'It's a breakdown in consensus,' says Rabobank analyst

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Tyson Foods, Unilever, leave the GMA
The industry is evolving – “and so is GMA” says the Grocery Manufacturers Association after two more big names (Unilever and Tyson Foods) told Politico they would not be renewing their membership in 2018, following similar announcements from Campbell Soup, Nestlé, Dean Foods and Mars.

Neither firm has gone into detail about its decision – with Unilever telling Politico that it was increasing its focus on “advocacy aligned with delivering our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan​,” and Tyson explaining that it is “moving toward a more global discussion about the future of food​."

Nestlé has not commented on the reasons behind its decision although it has had its differences with the GMA over several issues, including added sugar labeling (Nestlé supported it, the GMA was opposed), voluntary sodium reduction initiatives (Nestlé is supportive, the GMA less so), and mandatory GMO labeling (Politico alleges that Nestlé officials were “not happy with the GMA's gung-ho opposition​​”).

However,  Denise Morrison, CEO at Campbell Soup (which has just joined the Plant Based Foods Association​) was more forthcoming when asked why Campbell was leaving during the company's annual investor day in July,​​​ explaining:

"There's two ways to look at it, why did you decide to leave it? We actually turned it around and said, why would we stay in it? ​​The GMA has grown over the past few years, more as a lobbying and regulatory association dealing with a lot of the regulatory issues in the food industry. What we have experienced is finding ourselves at odds with some of the positions. ​​

"And when you think about it, you step back, it's comprised of mostly very large food companies and not a lot of small companies and our philosophy seems to be aligning more with the smaller food companies. And so we therefore, as a leadership team made a decision that if you're going to associate, you want to associate with an association that shares your values. And so therefore, we made that decision."​​

Rabobank analyst: There’s a breakdown in consensus

So does this exodus from the industry’s leading trade association and lobbying group matter?

Nick Fereday, ‎executive director, food & consumer trends at Rabobank, told FoodNavigator-USA that if nothing else, the exodus reflected a “breakdown in consensus​.

“For the longest time the GMA was very conservative and individual companies didn’t have to take a stance on issues because they could just defer to their trade association, but that’s changing, on issues such as GMO labeling, or added sugar, companies were starting to see that consumers were heading in a different direction.”

He added: “I think it’s part of a wider story about large food companies or organizations such as the GMA losing control of the narrative, with the influence of social media, the declining influence of national advertising, and so on.”

 ​GMA: We all will continue to evolve and change

In a statement sent to reporters seeking comment, Roger Lowe, executive vice president of strategic communications at GMA, said the association would evolve to meet the changing needs of members: “GMA and its Board are continuing our work to build the new GMA for the future to meet the needs of long-time and new member companies and of consumers. The food industry is facing significant disruption and is evolving – and so is GMA.

“We all will continue to evolve and change at an even faster pace. We are always sorry when a member company decides to leave, and hope to work with them on issues of mutual interest in the future.”

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