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 & 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.”

Read more on the merge at meatassociation.com.