Building a new GMA

Geoff Freeman, President and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association

Change is transforming the food, beverage and consumer products industry at an extraordinary pace. The implications are significant — for the industry as a whole, for individual brands, and for consumers and policymakers.

Since the announcement of my selection in June as new president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), I have been speaking with member companies (both past and present), policymakers, critics, allies, and experts across a range of complex issues. At least three things are clear: industry leaders are committed to a new path forward; the need for a strong, contemporary trade association has never been greater; and a transformed GMA can be the most effective advocate and leading voice of our industry.

My previous experiences at the American Gaming Association and the U.S. Travel Association have proven that an active, engaged trade association can effectively lead industries in Washington, D.C., and state capitals across America. By uniting members behind a common set of priorities, proactively pursuing policy opportunities through research-based advocacy, and removing barriers that limit industry growth, trade associations can play a pivotal role in shepherding welcomed and needed disruption.

At the American Gaming Association, we launched a multi-year, research-driven campaign to demonstrate gaming’s broad support across the political spectrum and the industry’s role in promoting economic growth, job creation and tax benefits in the 40 states where gaming is legal. That campaign generated the tailwinds needed to drive the industry’s major win when the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way earlier this year for legalizing sports betting — a multi-billion dollar growth opportunity for the gaming industry.

In 2009-10, when the burdensome and inefficient airport screening process became an obstacle to travel for millions of business people, the U.S. Travel Association created a Blue Ribbon Panel — led by former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge — to analyze how to maximize security and efficiency. The effort led to the creation of the TSA PreCheck program — a hugely popular endeavor that allows more than 1 million Americans to use expedited security screening at the nation’s airports. This was a win-win-win that strengthened America’s security, improved the screening experience for travelers and created new growth opportunities for the travel industry.

GMA must similarly seize opportunities to help drive a new era of innovation.

I know the question foremost on the minds of those watching today is, “how?” At the GMA Leadership Forum in August, just a few weeks after I started in my new position, I outlined four priorities to create a high-performing, modern trade association.

First, we will develop and implement a clear, compelling strategy to guide GMA’s activities and focus our efforts on programs that deliver the greatest return to our members. We will shift from defense to offense, articulate a single, powerful voice for our industry, and seize opportunities for growth through a better policy environment.

Second, we will reorganize, transforming GMA into a lean, focused, entrepreneurial association that can see around corners, spring into action, and deliver results. We will create an integrated public affairs operation that combines government affairs, communications, and new research and ally development into a powerful industry advocate.

Third, we will create a new leadership structure. The GMA Board of Directors will be empowered to engage strategically, leading a transparent, inclusive and rigorous governance process that unites our industry on high-stakes issues and clear priorities.

Fourth, we will deliver greater value to our members. GMA will be right-sized as an effective science and advocacy organization; we will diversify our revenue streams to become financially secure; and we will establish a new vision for the organization that prioritizes activities with a significant return on member investment.

The new GMA will be nimble, agile and proactive in communicating our industry’s tremendous economic impact and social contributions to the nation, states, and communities. We will meet consumer demands for greater transparency through innovations such as SmartLabel®, a digital tool that gives consumers easy access to more product information than could ever fit on the package label. SmartLabel® is now used by more than 40 major companies for more than 32,000 food, beverage, personal care, household, and other products, spanning hundreds of brands in retail stores.

GMA is in the midst of a rebirth. Change is difficult to embrace and takes time to achieve. My pledge to GMA’s member companies and our staff is to move as quickly as possible in the short term to reposition GMA for success in the long run. By transforming GMA, we will build a powerful advocacy organization that unites a great industry, communicates its value to America, and seizes new opportunities for growth. RL

Geoff Freeman is president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association.