With New Leader at Helm, Grocery Manufacturers Association Reboots

Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of GMA for the past year, is revising the strategy and message of the trade group, which had dealt with high-profile member departures.

In recent years, the Grocery Manufacturers Association faced a series of challenges that threatened its status as the primary industry group for the packaged-food industry. Now, Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of GMA since last summer, is leading an effort to secure it.

Plenty of questions arose after several prominent members—including major brand names like Campbell Soup and Hershey—chose to leave the organization in 2017 and 2018, some expressing concern that GMA had become too political, according to news reports. Freeman came on board without food-industry background but with a strong track record in association leadership, most recently having helped the American Gaming Association gain a reputation as an advocacy powerhouse that scored a major win in the Supreme Court.

As Food Processing notes, Freeman spent his first few months at GMA’s helm talking with stakeholders and helping to revamp its strategy. “We have analyzed critical functions, targeted key investments, and addressed gaps in strategy with a single goal in mind: building an association that is indispensable to the industry,” Freeman said in November.

When he sat down with Food Dive this month, Freeman noted that GMA has a wide variety of stakeholders extending from major brand names to private food labels and that he was concerned early on that the organization was spread too thin with “non-food interests.” But by speaking to members, he discovered what they have in common.

“When you speak with the C-suite, the issues that keep them up at night are relatively consistent,” Freeman told the outlet. “And it pointed out for me an opportunity to build something that the C-suite needs that is fundamentally different than that which existed.”

He has also acknowledged concerns about public messaging. Speaking at the GMA Science Forum last month, Freeman noted that the organization was often seen as attempting to “pull one over on people.”

“For whatever reason, our advocacy left the assumption out there, and we allowed the NGOs that were on the other side of some of the issues to somehow position us as having interests that were distinct from the consumer,” Freeman said, according to FoodNavigator-USA. “That couldn’t be further from the truth. But shame on us for letting it get to that point.”

So what’s next? In his comments to Food Dive, Freeman said GMA will be “leveraging the powerful brands that are in this industry to get things done.”

“I think in the past we’ve been punching below our weight class quite considerably, and we’ve got an opportunity to build this into one of the powerhouse associations in town,” Freeman said.

(Kwangmoozaa/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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