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United Fresh takes center stage

WASHINGTON -- A new produce association was formally introduced Tuesday evening, Sept. 12 during United's annual Washington Public Policy Conference here in the nation's capital.

The International Fresh-cut Produce Association and United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association have completed their legal merger, thus launching what it termed a new era of service to the produce industry by the new group, the United Fresh Produce Association.

The new organization will go by the name United Fresh, signaling its heritage from both associations, while providing an easily recognizable transition to build upon the equity of the United name that has been built on Capitol Hill, with national and international governmental bodies, in the national news media, and throughout the industry since 1937.

Maintaining the word United as part of the name also reinforces the importance of industry unity that was set in 1937 with the merger of the Western Fruit Jobbers Association and the American Fruit & Vegetable Shippers Association to form the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association.

Details of the new entity were discussed at a press conference Sept. 12 and then announced to those attending United's Washington Public Policy Conference Sept. 12-15, beginning with a special WPPC celebration banquet at the Grand Hyatt Hotel here.

Leading United Fresh will be a 46-member board of directors combined from the previous boards of UFFVA and IFPA, with Maureen Marshall of Torrey Farms and Mark Miller of Fresh from Texas as co-chairmen of the board. They were previously chairmen of UFFVA and IFPA, respectively, and will serve as co-chairmen of United Fresh until the next regularly scheduled member election of officers and directors in May 2007.

Emanuel Lazopoulos of Del Monte Fresh Produce has been selected as chairman-elect and will assume the chairmanship of United Fresh in May. That 46-member board "will be slowly reduced to about 30 over a period of about four years to maintain continuity and allow for new blood," United's Tom Stenzel said at the press conference.

Mr. Stenzel, president and chief executive officer of United Fresh, heads the management staff of the new association. He served in those same posts with UFFVA since 1983 and previously served seven years as president of the International Food Information Council.

Former IFPA President Jerry Welcome now serves as the new group's executive vice president of business development. He served three years as IFPA president, previously holding management positions with the Packaging Machinery & Manufacturing Institute and the American Meat Institute.

The staff of United Fresh has been blended from the teams of IFPA and UFFVA, and has appointed key staff members to positions of increased responsibilities.

Robert L. Guenther, previously vice president of public policy, has been promoted to senior vice president of public policy. He heads all policy work, government relations, issues management and advocacy for the association. Jim Gorny, previously vice president of quality assurance and technology, has been promoted to senior vice president of food safety and technology. Dr. Gorny heads the association's food safety team and efforts to help members address all technical issues.

Victoria Kuhns, previously vice president of education, has been promoted to senior vice president of member service. She heads member communications, membership services, education programs, and is the staff director of the United Research & Education Foundation.

Joan C. Donnelly has been appointed vice president and chief financial officer. She joined the association in August, filling a new position.

United Fresh said that it will concentrate its initial efforts in delivering the highest possible level of value to members in the following areas: leadership in government relations, issues management and media advocacy; leadership in food safety, quality assurance, nutrition and health; focus on innovation and business growth through increased produce sales and profitability; local and global services to meet members' needs; and synergy, efficiency and enhance member value.

United Fresh will offer two "unique, compelling and dynamic trade events in 2007," according to information distributed at the press conference. In other words, the former IFPA trade show -- now called FreshTech -- will continue to take place, and is scheduled for April 25-27, 2007 in Palm Springs, CA. The former UFFVA trade show -- now called FreshMarketplace -- will also continue to take place, and is scheduled for May 5-8 in Chicago, part of the "Power of 5" joint marketing effort of five leading food trade shows, including that of the Food Marketing Institute.

"There are different people at each show," said Mr. Stenzel. "Sales and marketing people" have traditionally gone to United, and "technical people" have traditionally gone to IFPA. So the leaders believe there are strong reasons to continue to hold two separate trade shows. As Mr. Welcome put it, "We believe each show serves two different audiences."

In 2008, FreshTech will take place in Sacramento, CA, at a time still to be determined, according to Mr. Welcome. FMI has previously announced that it will hold its show only every other year, and United Fresh has not yet announced its plans for 2008.

But all the leaders were clearly enthusiastic about the new organization.

"This is a very exciting time for us to merge these two organizations," said Ms. Marshall. "The produce industry is my passion, and this merger will help us."

"United opened its arms to us," said Mr. Miller. "And we feel like we bring strength to the organization. It's been quite a remarkable merger. It's a very proud day that it's finally here."