- Tyson Foods and Unilever are joining an increasingly long list of Big Food companies leaving the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), according to a recent article by Politico. Campbell Soup Co., Nestle, Dean Foods and Mars have all also decided in recent months not renew their membership with the trade group representing the food and beverage industry.
- Neither Tyson, nor Unilever, would tell Politico why they were leaving. GMA and its members have had disagreements over how to respond to changing consumer tastes, such as voluntarily cutting back on sodium.
- Unilever told Politico in an email that it would remain focused on the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, which includes goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make products healthier. Tyson cited that it is "moving toward a more global discussion about the future of food," in a statement.
Both Tyson Foods and Unilever are taking the high road as they dissolve their partnership with the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA). Neither is speaking disparagingly of the trade organization, nor are they offering specific grievances that spurred their departure.
What they’re not saying is that GMA is finding itself increasingly at odds with the large food manufacturers it represents.
Nestle, which announced it would be leaving GMA just weeks ago, has had differing views on a number of hot button issues. Nestle is in favor of mandatory labeling for GMO ingredients and added sugars, as well as voluntarily cutting back on sodium. The trade association has lobbied against them.
GMA represents roughly 250 members from the food and beverage industry. Attempting to get a consensus on issues like GMO labeling is likely next to impossible. However, when six major food companies decide to leave the membership within weeks of each other, it may be time to reassess the organization's positions.
GMA has been able to brush off previous departures, but it won't be able to sweep Tyson's and Unilever’s announcement under the rug. The sheer volume of big names leaving in a short amount of time signals a rocky future for the trade group.
In a statement, GMA said the organization is building itself "for the future to meet the needs of long-time and new member companies and of consumers." The food and beverage group added that it is evolving along with the food industry. "We all will continue to evolve and change at an even faster pace. We are always sorry when a member company decides to leave, and hope to work with them on issues of mutual interest in the future,” GMA said.
GMA is steadily losing lobbying power and funding with each new departure. At some point the organization needs to ask itself if it is accurately representing member's voices. If it doesn't change some stances, the group risks more high profiles losses.
Taking a broader look at the issues driving the mass exodus from GMA, it would appear partisanship is entering food policy. Considering the mountain of money to be made in lobbying, expect to see more trade organizations with differing views pop up and grow to represent the increasingly diverse standpoints.