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Pundit’s Mailbag — United And PMA Need Clear Job Descriptions

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, August 2, 2007

Our continuing series on a possible United/PMA merger brought these comments from a major shipper:

I don’t see why PMA can’t focus on the supply-chain and United on food safety, security and government affairs. I don’t think we’ll ever get to one association but they need to write job descriptions for themselves and then STICK TO THEM — don’t change the minute a hot topic comes up and it doesn’t fall under your area of responsibility.

It seems a consummation devoutly to be wished — and a solution to many problems as far as efficiency, one voice, etc. Yet it also seems impossible.

First, these are membership organizations that currently compete with one another for membership dues. They each have members who want services and representation, and each organization would be loath to tell a member who calls for a service that this service is provided only by its association competitor.

Of course, one could argue that membership dues can be paid to two separate organizations that have two separate functions, and thus duplication is avoided, but that would require everyone to belong to both associations. This is currently not the case and seems difficult to mandate.

Second, if you look at our writer’s list of United activities — food safety, security and government affairs — you realize that, if strictly adhered to, it would create an association very distant from the day-to-day activities of most in the produce industry. It would be hard to build and maintain the network of connections that makes a broad-based association possible. It would only make sense for a very small association — the International Banana Association comes to mind — whereby a few large, sophisticated companies want to have an association focused in this way.

Third, the lines are never so clear. Isn’t food safety a pretty important marketing issue?

Fourth, where would United get the money? All the United activities mentioned by our correspondent are non-remunerative. Imagine an association having to support itself 100% through dues and with almost no contact with most people in the industry. Who would join? How much would they pay?

Fifth, the job description idea sounds good, but situations change. And when they change members will want their association to change with them. An association that doesn’t will soon be seen as irrelevant.

One wonders, in the end, if these talks are really practical. As United and PMA’s memberships have diverged, the associations become more specifically competitive, and maybe the “winner” and the “loser” has to be determined by the marketplace. Maybe the associations are different enough to support two separate identities and industry institutions or, maybe, the industry won’t support both organizations and one association will decrease in membership as people feel it less relevant to their needs.

It is not clear that a meeting or a survey is a better way to find out what the industry wants than studying the actual membership growth of the associations.

Many thanks to our correspondent for sharing his insight.

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