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A Fresh Take on Legacy: How the International Fresh Produce Association Integrated the Past Into Its Merger

The primary trade group for the fresh produce sector, which sprouted from the merger of two major associations earlier this year, came to life with a careful approach mindful of the long legacies that preceded it.

The International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA) is a new organization, only officially launching at the beginning of 2022.

But its roots go a lot deeper than that.

The association is the result of the combination of two produce industry organizations with significant legacies—the Produce Marketing Association (PMA, founded in 1949) and the United Fresh Produce Association (UFPA, founded in 1904). When discussions began to bring these groups together, the goal was to create a unified organization that drew from various parts of the produce industry, noted IFPA CEO Cathy Burns.

Burns, who was previously PMA’s CEO, shared the chief executive role with UFPA’s former president, Tom Stenzel, until the end of March. (Stenzel will remain in a consulting role until the middle of the year.) She noted that the idea for the new organization came about from discussions the two had last year.

“If you looked at it, as we did, from the members’ viewpoint, to have two organizations that represent the supply chain across from seed manufacturers through to retail operators, food service operators—basically anywhere produce is sold or eaten—there’s an opportunity for efficiency,” she said. “Also, probably most importantly, for earning the opportunity to create one unified voice for the industry.”

Despite creating a new organization and retiring the existing names, Burns emphasized that the legacy and goals of the two organizations would continue.

“What our stakeholders are counting on us for moving forward is ultimately to grow their prosperity,” she said.

Read on for the steps IFPA took to build a new organization out of two distinct legacies.

Find the Right Moment

Burns said the two organizations had considered merging a few times over the past few decades, but it had not happened for various reasons.

The pandemic created a new context for converging. Burns said the decisions that drove the merger were strategic rather than financial, and pointed to the health issues COVID-19 highlighted as an indicator of this.

“Nutrition and health is now in the spotlight,” she said. “The world used to think about eating healthy to prevent yourself from getting cancer 30 years from now, 40 years from now.” But the pandemic made the risk of an unhealthy diet all too real in a shorter time frame, as comorbidities of diet-related conditions exacerbated COVID-19 symptoms.

This created an opportunity to merge the organizations from an advocacy standpoint. “Having one unified voice would put us even in a better position to influence policy,” Burns said.

Start the Conversation Early

One does not create a new trade group from two others overnight. In the case of IFPA, discussions between Burns and Stenzel started more than a year before the combination actually happened—and were publicly announced nine months before the merger took place.

“We have a pretty solid vision, which is to bring the industry together to create a vibrant future for all, so we created seven strategies to ultimately support that mission.”

IFPA CEO Cathy Burns

This gave the new organization a significant runway, which helped it win support among volunteer leaders and the broader membership. It also invited the combining organizations to do a strategic and branding reset, a process that included stakeholder interviews, planning sessions, and an outside consulting firm that assisted in shaping its brand.

“We have a pretty solid vision, which is to bring the industry together to create a vibrant future for all, so we created seven strategies to ultimately support that mission,” Burns said, adding that the goals serve members by “advocating, connecting, and guiding” the industry.

Putting significant work into developing its mission helped the organization meet stakeholder needs, while offering clarity on the more complex elements that require changes. “If you’re really clear on your strategies, it makes the rest of the conversation a little easier,” she said.

Forge a New Path

Burns made clear that the new organization, while borrowing cues from decades of past work in the produce industry, felt the need to do a reset—including choosing a new name to highlight the industry’s international reach. That requires an approach that might pull from the past, but that also looks at where things might go next.

Burns compared IFPA’s approach to that of a startup and said that much of the early work of determining a new direction focused on change management. In this context, she noted that it is easy to set up a strategy—but that failing to keep everyone on the same page is a recipe for disaster.

“I’ve been in the corporate world, I’ve been part of mergers and acquisitions,” she said. “And those organizations that don’t tend to the organizational change component of it are going to flounder. They will not be set up for success.”

One major element of that includes integrating accountability within the system, as well as integrating competencies within the organization. “All of that is based on a strong foundation of trust,” she said.

(MEDITERRANEAN/E+/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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