PMA, United Fresh Merger Talks Fizzle

The Produce Marketing Association (PMA) and United Fresh Produce Association (UFPA) have broken off merger talks after nearly 18 months of negotiations.

Mike O’Brien, co-chair of the joint task force leading the merger discussions said, “I acknowledge with profound disappointment that, despite our best efforts, we were unable to agree on an acceptable joint association model that would meet both member and industry needs.”

O’Brien went on to say that the decision to end merger talks was “a decision made by PMA’s volunteer leaders on behalf of our members,” and that the group “remains committed to building collaborative relationships with all our association partners in the U.S. and abroad.”

Echoing some of O’Brien’s sentiments with regard to doing “what is best for our members and the produce industry,” David Krause, chairman of the board of UFPA, and Ron Midyett, chairman-elect, also commented on the matter. “From the very start, we’ve been steadfastly committed to acting only in the best interest of member companies and the entire produce industry, without predetermined constraints on programs, executive leadership or staff,” they said.

The talks, which began in February 2011, may have reached a stalemate on the issue of leadership. PMA’s board reportedly wanted its CEO, Bryan Silbermann, to lead the newly merged group, while others were calling for a new board to select a chief executive.

“We are disappointed that in the end, PMA’s current leadership did not agree with what we believe was a very fair, member-oriented plan that could have blended the goals and priorities of both associations,” said Krause and Midyett. “Without that commitment from our friends at PMA, the United board could simply not abandon the principles that have guided our association for more than a century.”

Newark, Del.-based PMA seemed to hint at financial reasons for the fallout, with O’Brien saying: “We engaged leading experts in association mergers to ensure that we took every step possible to advance the interests of our members across the global supply chain while reducing duplication and costs. Those experts guided us through a disciplined legal due diligence process and comprehensive financial modeling to assess both the opportunities and challenges of a merger.”

Third Time Not a Charm

The two groups previously attempted to merge in the early 1990s and again in the early 2000s.

Rumors that the latest attempt at a union were unraveling began circulating this spring. In early May, O’Brien and fellow co-chair Steffanie Smith fended off speculation of disharmony in the merger negotiations.

PG reported the following at that time: “As we’ve said repeatedly, both of our boards are continuing our discussions about the best way to serve our members,” noted Smith and O’Brien. “No final decisions have been made, and published reports implying otherwise are incorrect. While we appreciate that there is interest in our discussions, we respectively request a chance to complete our work in confidence. We will report to, and engage in, dialogue with all our members, as they have the final decision.”

What’s Next

Both PMA and UFPA are suggesting it will be business as usual moving forward.

“We anticipate that both associations will now continue to pursue their own strategic vision, offering a clear contrast in value and program choices to the industry, while collaborating when in the best interests of their members,” said Krause and Midyett.

Putting a fresh face on the final decision to end merger negotiations, O’Brien said, “I know we can move past the recent events to continue to work together to ensure a future where our fresh fruits and vegetables are always at the center of the plate.”