July 1 is the start date for the North American Meat Association (NAMA) the brand new association created by the consolidation of the two venerable meat industry association leaders – the National Meat Association (NMA) and the North American Meat Processors Association (NAMP). On that date, both associations literally will cease to exist – and the entirely new association NAMA will start.

The elected leaders of both associations have kept a low profile, focusing with other members and their association staff on a seamless transition.

Why did these two associations that have helped lead for industry for more than 60 years decide to join forces? Most importantly, how will NAMA members and the meat industry as a whole benefit?

Joining forces

It took only nine months from when NMA and NAMP began talking to when the consolidation became official – a short time compared to most association consolidations.

The two groups first raised the issue in earnest in May 2011. The decision was made official in February 2012. In between were numerous leadership meetings, two major Board meetings on both sides, several major documents, numerous member communications, conference calls, member surveys and member votes.

In the end, the vote to consolidate was almost unanimous – an overwhelming and remarkable show of solidarity by hundreds of member companies.

The leadership team included the executive committees of both associations acting for their boards and in accordance with their strategic plans.

Participants on weekly conference calls included NMA President Larry Vad of Ideal Meat & Provisions and NMA CEO Barry Carpenter; and for NAMP: NAMP Past Chair Gary Malenke of Natural Food Holdings, NAMP Chair Bobby Hatoff of Allen Brothers, NAMP President Jeff Saval of Deli Brands of America, and NAMP Executive Director Phil Kimball CAE.

The team reported to their respective executive committees, which in turn reported to their boards of directors and memberships.

“It was a wonderful experience working with the NAMP team,” says Vad. “It was a pilot for how the two groups will work together going forward. I could not have asked for a nicer group of people with which to work. Any bump in the road that came along was always handled together as a team. Nothing was ever thrown back at me to do myself.”

Hatoff agrees: “The leadership of NMA and NAMP were extremely cooperative, and that includes Barry Carpenter and Phil Kimball. Both made a positive impact in bringing issues to the attention of the leadership of the two organizations.”

The talks were not unprecedented. The two associations studied coming together more than five years ago, but did not act on it. NAMP hired Kimball who started in February 2007. Coincidently, Carpenter succeeded long-time NMA CEO Rosemary Mucklow that same month when she became Director Emeritus.

On the NAMP side, exploring merging with other organizations was part of the three-year strategic plan it developed in 2010. On the NMA side, its strategic plan called for exploring mergers as well.

Similarities and Synergies

There were a lot of similarities between the two groups: members of both associations are the same type of companies, but the overlap of both processor members and supplier members is surprisingly very low.

The geography of the membership is complimentary; the majority of NMA members are in the western U.S., and NAMP members are mostly in the Midwest and Northeast, Canada and Mexico.

“The number one benefit of the consolidation is the exponential power we have to support the meat industry, with the synergies by bringing together two great staffs and programs,” Carpenter says. “This gives us the ability to give more assistance to more members on in-plant issues. It gives us a growth opportunity to spring ahead in representing the industry in Canada and Mexico, as well as in the U.S.”

Kimball comments: “Barry and I have worked together for years now, and the NAMP and NMA staffs have worked together on regulatory issues, on co-sponsoring food safety events, and on any number of fronts. Each association has complementary strengths which, when combined, make NAMA the premier place for meat companies to go for help.”

NAMA will have members in 44 U.S. states, three Canadian provinces, Mexico, Australia, and Japan. It will have a larger “footprint.” It will have members in 80 percent of the congressional districts in the U.S.

“The consolidation means we have a stronger voice together,” says Saval. “The combined strength of the two already strong associations comes at a critical time for the industry. We needed to create stronger industry representation on regulatory, scientific and food safety issues.

“There are synergies in these tough economic times. The consolidation means members get more timely information on regulations and legislative issues. What the two associations were doing separately, now they do as one association and the members benefit from this cost-effective synergy.

“Our industry gets attacked on a variety of issues – obesity, ‘pink slime', whatever. Now we have one voice instead of two separate voices. We as an association need to be a proactive voice to consumers, not a reactive voice. We need to show consumers what we are doing to create safe, legal foods.”

Vad agrees: “Given our industry and the political environment today, it's an important move to strengthen our industry's voice. My experience with NMA has strengthened my business and my own knowledge, and this consolidation will do the same for all of our members.”

Bob Jensen, former president of both organizations, and president of Jensen Meat Co. in Vista, CA, agrees: “I think this is a great opportunity to bring together two great associations that will benefit both the members and the industry. I feel this new association will give the industry the voice and direction that it needs as we continue to address the many challenges our industry faces in producing safe, high quality products.”

Together as Equals

A guiding principle in the talks was the concept that both associations were coming together as equals. It also is reflected in NAMA's elected leadership. No board member of either association is being asked to step down. NAMA's first board of directors will include every current board member of NAMP and NMA.

For the first year, that means 98 board Members. It drops to about 67 for the second year, and 33 of the current Board members in the third year when new board members from NAMA are elected.

The NAMA by-laws set the parameters of between 40 and 60 Board members, to be determined by the new board each year. So going into year three, NAMA members will elect new board members from the entire NAMA membership.

“This arrangement facilitates the transition over the next few years,” says Kimball. “The new board brings together the leadership of both organizations as equals.”

That cooperative approach guides the selection of officers. For the next five years, there will be co-officers, matching the president of NMA with the president of NAMP, for instance.

So, starting July 1, the NAMA co-presidents will be current NAMP Vice President Mike Satzow of North Country Smokehouse, and current NMA Vice President Marty Evanson of Jobbers Meat Packing.

“As incoming co-president with Mike, I couldn't ask for a better partner in our new organization,” says Evanson. “This is exciting times for the North American Meat Association with a number of issues and agendas to accomplish.”

He adds: “Just think: two presidents from exact opposite ends of the country, New Hampshire and Southern California and all the land in between including Canada and Mexico. How wonderful is that? We owe our thanks to Larry Vad and Jeff Saval.”

Satzow comments: “Recent events in the industry, such as the attacks on BPI, signal that the industry needs to be in a position to react and be proactive about the threat placed on all our livelihoods.”

He takes a long view: “The consolidation is a unique opportunity to shape a new association to provide the support for the industry for decades to come.”

“A major reason a company should join NAMA is to survive now, and to provide future generations in the meat trade with the experience and opportunities to learn from today's packers and processors about how to create solutions,” he adds.

As each pair rotates off the top of officer roster over the next five years, a single NAMA officer will come on board at the bottom and move up through the officer positions.

Complementary programs and services

NAMA will offer the best from the programs and services of NAMP and NMA.

NMA has focused on 24/7 regulatory assistance for in-plant problems, with four full-time staffers, three of them former FSIS front-line employees. It has a strong regulatory and legislative representation at USDA and on Capitol Hill, augmented by the Olsson, Frank & Weeda law firm, which has had NMA as a client since the firm's founding.

NAMP has focused on food safety and culinary education for the industry, with its summer/fall E. coli Conference and spring food safety mini-conference, its Center of the Plate Training® I and II programs, and recent Salmonella and Campylobacter conferences at the International Poultry Exposition (IPE). It also expanded its Meat Buyer's Guide®.

NAMP also has offered regulatory assistance, reinforced by its three science advisors, well as assistance in Canada with an expert government relations representative Robert de Valk in Ottawa.

“NAMA will reach out to companies that are not members of any association” says Carpenter. “We'll reach out to demonstrate the value of an association to support them and their businesses.”

“The caliber of the combined NAMA staff and its collective experience gives us the resources to tackle issues from the smallest in-plant regulatory issue to complex trade issues. We have an outstanding staff backstopped by a network of professional assistance, with the OFW law firm, de Valk in Ottawa, workplace issues help from the Alaniz and Schraeder law firm, and scientific and regulatory help from Dr. James Marsden at KSU, just to name a few. This makes NAMA unique.”

Both have strong conferences twice a year. For the next two years, NAMA will combine the formats from the two associations. In the next 12 months, it will offer an E. coli Conference in early October near Chicago's O'Hare Airport, an Outlook Conference in late October in San Antonio, an Annual Conference and MEATXPO ‘13 in February in Las Vegas.

This means more member networking opportunities, and more marketing opportunities for its Associate and Allied Members.

One of the largest meat industry associations in the world

Through the consolidation, NAMA will have nearly 700 member companies, about 400 of which are meat processors. This makes it one of the largest in the global meat trade measured by the number of members.

Understanding that food safety, trade and other issues facing the industry know no international borders, NAMA will have a wide-ranging North American perspective, with members in U.S., Canada and Mexico. Mexico is beginning to ship more beef into the U.S. and has historically been a major supplier of feeder cattle into the U.S. The U.S. and Canada are working on harmonizing reciprocal rules and regulations. These changing market realities are legacies of NAFTA and part of the growing trend in international trade. NAMA plans to be out front on these.

Gary Malenke, former NAMP Chair, NMA member, and President of Natural Food Holdings in Sioux City, IA, sees it this way: “The dependence on imports and exports of protein products continues to increase. The creation of NAMA will be an opportunity to further this movement for the benefit of buyers and sellers across North America.

“The industry recognizes there are cuts that carry more value in different geography. One example is pork back-ribs, which have traditionally sold at higher values in the U.S. vs. Mexico, giving incentive to Mexican sellers of this product to ship to the U.S.

“The regulation of federal meat inspection varies between Canada, Mexico and the U.S. NAMA will be positioned to influence the continuity of regulatory application for the benefit of the membership.”

“It is exciting that NAMA is a North American association with members in Canada and Mexico,” says Satzow. “All of us have the same problems and we're looking for the same solutions – which is the best common denominator there is.”

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