NGA, FDI WILL COOPERATE BUT NOT MERGE

LAS VEGAS -- The National Grocers Association and Food Distributors International have once again backed off from a merger of the two organizations.The groups issued a joint statement last week during the annual convention of the NGA here underlining their intent to further explore common programs. The statement pointed to cooperation on the programming front but didn't address a wider combination

LAS VEGAS -- The National Grocers Association and Food Distributors International have once again backed off from a merger of the two organizations.

The groups issued a joint statement last week during the annual convention of the NGA here underlining their intent to further explore common programs. The statement pointed to cooperation on the programming front but didn't address a wider combination of the organizations.

There had been reports that the two groups would seriously mull a merger or the formation of an umbrella organization that structurally joined the associations. But the substance of last week's statement made it apparent that the discussions had moved away from that direction. The statement calling for closer cooperation on joint activities followed talks by the FDI executive committee and the NGA board of directors.

"I think it's [a merger] off the table for now," Jack Block, FDI president, told SN. He noted that while the talks had included options such as formation of an umbrella organization, the final decision was to "work together to find more areas of common interest and meetings that might be combined.

"The reason why a full-blown merger has not been endorsed is that there's still a great desire for independence by the members and the boards. There's a concern about being able to address association priorities."

However, noting that the subject of a merger has been periodically entertained in recent years, Block added that it's certainly possible a merger would be explored again at some point.

The joint statement included quotes from a number of key players in the discussions, including Pat Quinn, retired president and chief executive officer of Spartan Stores, Grand Rapids, Mich. Quinn has been leading the discussions on joining forces between the NGA, Reston, Va., and the FDI, Falls Church, Va., which includes the International Foodservice Distributors Association.

"We've gotten a lot done in the past few months," Quinn said. "Essentially, in this last round of meetings, we have decided that at this time it makes the most sense for us to look at combining things from a programmatic point of view."

Quinn pointed to a number of recent combined efforts, including a major study being conducted this year on the wholesaling supplied system and a joint marketing conference. "The real bottom line is that there are already a lot of joint programs going on, and both FDI and NGA want to do more together," Quinn said. "We still have to figure out precisely what form those efforts will take."

Dean Janeway, NGA chairman, who is also president and chief operating officer of Wakefern Food Corp., Elizabeth, N.J., said in the statement, "retailers and wholesalers have to work more closely together in the future, and so should their organizations. We need to put as many of our programs together as we can."

Thomas Zaucha, NGA president, said in the statement, "NGA's mission is committed to furthering the relationship between the independent retailer and wholesaler, and that process can be enhanced through greater cooperative efforts between the two organizations."