- The Grocery Manufacturers Association — the largest food, beverage and CPG brand trade association — will change its name to the Consumer Brands Association next year, the group told Food Dive.
- President and CEO Geoff Freeman pledged to reorient and retarget the association when he took the helm of the 110-year-old trade group last year. This spring, he told Food Dive that in order to pivot the organization to better represent all of its members and causes all of them care about, the group would "have to be represented in a different way."
- In an interview with Food Dive on Wednesday, Freeman said the association — made up of brands that every home in the United States depends on — needs to point itself back to consumers and issues that can unite the whole industry, like recycling and sensible regulations. "These are issues where the power of the brands can make a meaningful difference," he said. "Industry can be proud to be associated with those activities. It's a transformational change for our organization. ... As we have the discussions with the industry, the name became obvious. You know, consumers' brands. That's what this industry stands for."
Freeman has been hard at work refocusing the CPG industry's leading trade group since he took over, and this name change is the latest example of the big shifts he's made.
Before Freeman came aboard, GMA had made headlines as several big-name food companies — including Hershey, Cargill, Tyson Foods, Unilever, Nestlé and Campbell Soup — left the trade group. Many of those manufacturers cited differences between the association's priorities and their own. Freeman, who spoke to Food Dive in April about his plans and priorities for the association, said that the job at GMA presented the "ultimate challenge" — leading a key association that had very difficult times in a very public way.
In the last year, the organization has completely changed its focus. Instead of spending time and energy on issues that were not universal among members — something that likely caused the exodus of members — Freeman has focused on the strength and power of CPG brands. He's looked at what they have in common and how they shape the U.S. economy. Last month, the association came out with its first ever study examining the industry's contribution to the nation. It found that one in 10 jobs is linked to the CPG industry, which directly leads to 2.3 million jobs, $151 billion in labor income and a $361.3 billion contribution to the U.S. gross domestic product. Other initiatives the group has pursued have to do with clarifying recycling guidelines, improving supply chains, and pushing for smart federal regulations.
Freeman said he talked to several people in the industry — who are and are not members — as he was working on this rebranding. He said that dozens of names were considered, but this one quickly rose to the top. In conversations, he said, it became obvious that the group should not have a name that focuses on manufacturers.
"It's clear that the North Star for the industry is consumers," he said. "We are an industry that adapts to consumers every day. It's an industry that respects consumers, provide consumers with choice. And it's clear that we as an association need to have that as our same North Star."
GMA was founded in 1908, after 60 grocery product manufacturers met and discussed how to meet new regulations and improve trade relations. Through the years, according to a timeline on the association's website, the group has lobbied on laws and regulations impacting the industry — including developing the UPC code and the current SmartLabel initiative — increased food supplies for the needy and troops in war times, and partnered with presidents to push food safety.
The organization doesn't just represent food and beverage companies, but also those making cosmetics and household goods. And while many think of just food and drink in GMA — which may also stem from the group merging with the Food Products Association in 2007 — Freeman stresses that the group needs to be seen as more inclusive.
As the new name rolls out, Freeman said he sees a lot of energy and enthusiasm toward the group from those in the CPG industry.
"I think when you see us full out in the first of the year, you're going to be quite impressed with some of the new members that are a part of the organization," he told Food Dive.
Freeman said that today's association is really a wholly different group than the GMA of yesteryear. So much so that he won't mind if the new name and its new acronym cause confusion among the public and state and federal governments. After all, this is a completely new organization with a renewed focus on things that are important to industry as a whole.
"It's worth saying that the organization we are launching into next year is something that's never been done before," he said. "It's filling a new void that perhaps didn't exist in the past. And we're going to write our own story from this point forward as we close the chapter on GMA."