- Hershey and Cargill are the latest Big Food companies to depart the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), bringing the total of high-profile defections from the association to eight, according to Politico. Nestle, Campbell Soup, Dean Foods, Mars, Tyson Foods and Unilever also have cut ties with the trade group.
- Most of these manufacturers have only given vague reasons for their departures, but GMA has reportedly been struggling to respond to evolving consumer preferences and divisions among its members. According to Politico, many of the companies that have left were pushing the association to adopt more progressive policies, such as GMO labeling.
- "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," Roger Lowe, GMA's executive vice president of strategic communications, told Food Dive in an email. "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 member companies decide to leave, and hope to work with them on issues of mutual interest in the future."
Hershey and Cargill's departures add to a growing list of high-profile companies that have left the powerful industry lobbying group during the last year. Most firms that have severed their ties have been largely silent on why they have decided to leave. Campbell Soup, which announced last summer it would leave at the end of 2017, said its decision was "not a financial" one, but instead was driven by the company's "purpose and ... principles," according to Campbell CEO Denise Morrison.
“As we continue to evolve as a purpose-driven company, many of our beliefs have diverged from the rest of the food industry and from our trade association,” she told investors in July. "We had the experience of finding ourselves at odds with some of the positions."
Hershey spokesman Jeff Beckman told Food Dive the company's decision to leave was the result of an annual evaluation of its trade association memberships.
"We will continue to focus our time and resources in 2018 on initiatives that benefit consumers, such as product transparency and delivering a wider range of great snack options to delight consumers," Beckman wrote. "The food and retail environment is dynamic and the entire CPG industry is adapting and operating differently to meet the changing needs of consumers."
The loss of two more high-profile members could further weaken GMA's reputation, and raise questions about the issues that are driving these companies to walk out. Following Dean Foods' departure in November, Politico reported that complacency and a lack of leadership were to blame for frustration among some member companies — citing interviews with current and former GMA members, former staff and other industry leaders in Washington, D.C.
Lowe criticized Politico's report, claiming the story relied "heavily on nameless sources and former GMA staff who are out of touch with the organizations's work in recent years or who are eager to advance their own personal agenda."
With about 250 members — ranging from major to small and emerging food, beverage and consumer product firms — it would certainly be challenging for GMA to reach a consensus that pleases all its companies amid evolving consumer preferences and a changing political climate. But this string of departures suggest deep-seated issues, and could spur other big names to tap out. One thing is certain: GMA will need to make meaningful changes fast — or it could risk losing its remaining influence.