ARLINGTON, Va. — The National Grocers Association has taken steps to ensure it has a strong voice in the future of the food industry, said Thomas K. Zaucha, who said he is looking at 2010 as a possible retirement year, although no official decision has been made on a date.
Zaucha is one of the founders of the association, which was born in 1982 from the consolidation of the National Association of Retail Grocers of the United States and the Cooperative Food Distributors.
In his 27 years at the NGA helm, Zaucha has seen associations and companies exit the landscape. “You are only as viable as the people you represent,” he told SN. To that end, NGA and many of its member companies appear to be healthy and thriving as the association gets set to roll out its most comprehensive annual convention program to date — themed “Changing Times: A Blueprint for Success” — in Las Vegas, Feb. 3-6.
The convention program is a reflection of challenges independents will face as they confront issues on many fronts, including the economy, environment, energy management, food safety, health care, and job skills and career development. Former NBC news anchorman Tom Brokaw will deliver the keynote address by speaking about political, economic and leadership changes in America.
Zaucha said so far initial attendance figures are positive, but the poor economy remains an important factor. “Companies are cutting back, and we see that in other industry sectors and association meetings.” He reiterated that the educational and informational content of this year's convention program has never been better.
Other recent steps Zaucha outlined that NGA has taken to strengthen the organization are:
- Financially stable
This is the ninth consecutive year that NGA added to its reserves through increased membership and support without having to increase dues or fees, said Zaucha. “In this economy and the competitive state of our industry, that is an achievement few associations can claim.”
- Strong leadership
Longtime NGA executives Tom Wenning and Frank DePasquale were elevated to executive vice president positions. “This speaks well for NGA going forward. You always want to maintain the value of your leadership,” said Zaucha.
- Diversity of leadership
NGA voted to give those serving as past NGA chairmen voting rights as ex-official members of the board and allowed for the first time consumer packaged goods companies, represented by Kraft, Unilever, PepsiCo and Kellogg, to have an executive from their company serve on the NGA board. “This goes to the concept of how we define diversity within our leadership. Our philosophy has been a diversified marketplace is good for consumers, and that carries over to the leadership of our association. The more inclusive we can be in our ability to create good policies, trade relations, services and programs, the better off we are,” Zaucha explained.
- Increase voice of member councils
During the upcoming convention, the wholesale executive and manufacturer advisory councils will meet to discuss the implementation of two major issues — the readiness of the industry to have the GS1 labeling standard in place by Jan. 1, 2010, and how distributors and manufacturers can become fuel-efficient and utilize alternative energy sources.
The university advisory council also has grown to comprise about 18 universities with food marketing programs, Zaucha noted. The idea, he said, is for more uniformity and sharing of program concepts. The council introduced a student mentoring program, sponsored by retailer, wholesaler and manufacturer executives. This year, 35 students will go to the NGA convention.
- Association collaboration
“I'm optimistic we are in a new era of association collaboration,” said Zaucha, as it relates to the National Association of Convenience Stores, Food Marketing Institute and Grocery Manufacturers Association; the latter two organizations named women to head their organizations this year.