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Best Wishes To United Fresh Produce Association

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, September 14, 2006

The United Fresh Produce Association now exists, a consequence of the merger of the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association and the International Fresh-cut Produce Association.

It is a nostalgic moment for me. My family was a member of United for generations and for decades my grandfather, Harry Prevor, was chairman of an association that eventually merged into United. I remember as a boy saying goodbye to my parents each Febuary as they jetted off to some distant city for the United convention. As a young adult, I was the first person ever named Member of the Year by UFFVA.

Back in the days when Al Vangelos and Al Siger were chairmen, I spent countless nights in a Sheraton Suites hotel in Alexandria Virginia working on various projects at United headquarters. My 30th birthday was celebrated at Anne Day’s (Anne was an important staffer at United for many years) house near United headquarters.

Now it is a new day and, as a lot of industry money gets spent on these organizations, we have to all do what we can to help each organization find its place.

The industry leadership starts out as a board of 46 members. Initially Maureen Torrey Marshall (one of my old cabbage suppliers for shipment to Puerto Rico), who had been chairman of UFFVA, and Mark Miller of Fresh From Texas/Energy Sprouts, who had been chairman of IFPA, will be joint chairmen.

In May, Emanuel Lazopoulos, Del Monte Fresh, will assume the chairmanship.

President and CEO of United Fresh Produce Association will be Tom Stenzel, who had the same position at UFFVA. Jerry Welcome, who headed up the IFPA, is now vice president, business development for United Fresh.

The merger concentrates resources and, assuming the association will move quickly to reduce the size of the board to manageable size, should operate more effectively than either association did alone.

Although it has been many years since United’s glory days when it was the only national produce trade association and had, by far, the dominant industry trade show, etc., United’s members have often struck me as a particularly passionate lot.

Perhaps it is because governmental affairs arouse the passions more than marketing. In recent years, it may be because the DuPont/United Leadership Program brought many people close to the association at a very young age.

Over the years, many people have bandied about the idea of a merger between PMA and United. It may happen one day. It is not a better-or-worse situation. These things are often matters of timing and personality, and perhaps one day the timing and personalities will be right.

Yet, despite the fact that multiple associations inevitably drain industry coffers, decades of carefully watching industry trade associations have not convinced me that one association would really be better.

Partly it is the capitalist in me talking. In every other facet of our economy, we find that competition produces better outcomes. Why should association management not also benefit from robust competition?

In addition, this is a substantial industry, filled with passionate and devoted people who want to be part of industry leadership. The pundit’s mailbag overflows on this subject. We have dealt with it here, here and here, and there is much more to come.

Maybe a second national association serves as a kind of escape valve for the pressure that would build up otherwise when someone is denied a seat on a national association board or denied a chance to go on to become chairman.

If there was a monopoly, all that person could do is fume, or be destructive. Now that person can take his business — and his passion, leadership and willingness to work — elsewhere and contribute to the industry in another way. This is a big win for the trade, perhaps more than enough to compensate for some operational inefficiencies.

So to Maureen and Mark, to Tom and Emanuel, to the whole board and staff and to those who love this association, God Speed and may this new association, built on a base rich in heritage, find its way so that its good work shall light a path for this industry in the years to come.

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