Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Grocery makers' lobby changes name, reflecting fractured food industry often at cross purposes on Capitol Hill

The Grocery Manufacturers Association announced recently that it's changing its name to the Consumer Brands Association, reflecting a shift in focus and a new landscape in which there is no unified group representing foodmakers on Capitol Hill.

The move "comes nearly two years after about a dozen major food companies left the group amid deep disagreements over how to handle thorny food policy issues like GMO labeling," Helena Bottemiller Evich reports for Politico. "The association is now pivoting to focus on representing companies that produce consumer packaged goods — a broad sector that extends well beyond food to personal care products like shaving cream and even over-the-counter drugs."

Changes in consumer tastes drove the splintering of the once-powerful lobby, as people increasingly question ingredients, country of origin, farm and processor labor laws, and environmental impact of the food they buy. “The intense pace of change has left major food companies unable to agree on all sorts of issues, from mandatory labeling of genetically modified ingredients to whether the federal government should nudge foodmakers to reduce salt in their products," Evich reports. Among food companies, "consensus on pressing policy issues is nearly impossible to achieve, and things are likely to stay that way, according to interviews with more than a dozen industry leaders."

Some specialized food-industry groups have been unable to agree on policies. Dairy behemoth Dean Foods, which is struggling with declining sales, said last week it's leaving the International Dairy Foods Association because the lobby hasn't fought to keep plant-based products from being marketed with dairy terms like "milk" on the label.

Dean left GMA a few years ago, Evich notes. She writes, "Today, GMA is half the size it once was, in terms of revenue — an almost unheard of level of decline for a major trade association — and none of the companies that quit the group have rejoined, even after a complete leadership shake-up last year. The group’s new strategy is to seize on more unifying, less controversial issues like supply-chain logistics, sustainable packaging and recycling."

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