- Geoff Freeman will become the new president and chief executive officer of the Grocery Manufacturers Association on Aug. 1, the trade group said in a statement.
- Freeman is currently president and CEO of the American Gaming Association. He will take over for Pamela Bailey who announced in February that she would retire after nearly 10 years as GMA’s president and CEO.
- “Geoff stood out as having a dynamic perspective and is the best person to lead our industry’s response to the changing needs of consumers, along with those of the companies – large and small – whose interests GMA represents,” Vivek Sankaran, president and chief operating officer of Frito-Lay North America and a member of the search committee, said in the statement.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association spent about five months looking for a new leader, and its decision to go outside the food space could provide a fresh perspective for a trade group caught in the middle of changing consumer tastes and preferences that has divided its members.
In the last year alone, Hershey, Nestle, Campbell Soup, Tyson Foods and Unilever, among other large food companies, have defected from the trade group. Most firms that have severed their ties have been largely silent on why they have decided to leave, but it became clear some believed GMA wasn't moving as aggressively as it should have to address public demand for initiatives such as labeling genetically modified ingredients on packaging.
Politico reported last November that complacency and a lack of leadership were to blame for the loss of some of its top members, a piece later criticized by GMA. A few months later, GMA announced that Bailey was looking to retire. Bailey will be working with Freeman to ensure a smooth transition, the trade group said Tuesday.
Freeman has a long history working with a diverse range of industries. According to William Cyr, chief executive officer of Freshpet, Inc. and head of the board search committee, GMA will benefit from "Geoff’s extensive experience in leading transformative change" in health care insurance, travel and tourism, and casino gaming.
He'll need the insight he has amassed in what could be his biggest challenge yet. With more than 250 members throughout the food, beverage and consumer products industry, GMA has struggled at times to reconcile opinions into a uniform consensus the trade group can act upon.
To be sure, it's a difficult task considering the companies represent a wide swath of issues and sizes. Some members are more eager to embrace change, while others have been slower to respond. With consumer tastes and preferences evolving faster than ever, and agreement on some key issues far from certain among its members, Freeman's unlikely to find things getting easier any time soon.