The meat-processing industry is always rife with mergers and rumors of potential mergers, but one that could have a long-lasting industry impact took place not between two processors but rather two trade associations. Starting July 1, the North American Meat Processors Association and the National Meat Association will form the North American Meat Association. This merger of two venerable trade groups brings together more than 700 companies and two talented and experienced staffs.

The merger comes at a time when the meat industry has been under near-constant attack from various outside sources, including anti-meat activists, bloggers and the mainstream media. It can be argued that much of the damage the industry has suffered came because the industry did not defend itself from negative press until the damage had been done. Several of the new NAMA officers pointed to the need for a stronger, unified voice for the industry.

“The combined strength of the two healthy, resilient and strong associations comes at a critical time for the industry. We needed to create stronger industry representation on regulatory, scientific and food safety issues, and at the same time provide timely educational programs for our members and the industry as a whole,” says Jeff Saval, president of Deli Brands of America in Baltimore, Md., former NAMP president and incoming NAMA co-chair. “We as an association and industry need to be a proactive voice to consumers, not a reactive voice. We need to demonstrate to consumers what we are doing every day in our facilities to create safe, wholesome food.”

Gary Malenke, president of Natural Food Holdings in Sioux City, Iowa, and a former member of both associations, points out that the association benefits from having member companies across the United States, Canada and Mexico, particularly as 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,” he says. “The industry recognizes there are cuts that carry more value in different geographies. 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,” he adds.


Joined at the hip

The two groups first raised the issue of a merger in May, 2011. The decision was made official nine months later in February, 2012. In between were numerous leadership meetings, two major Board meetings on both sides and constant communication with members. Both associations put the matter to a vote by the member companies, and in both cases, the approval for consolidation was nearly unanimous.

“It was a wonderful experience working with the NAMP team – it was a pilot for how the two groups will work together going forward,” says Larry Vad, president of Ideal Meat & Provisions in Northridge, Calif. Vad is the former president of NMA and will be the incoming NAMA co-chair with Saval. “I could not have asked for a nicer group of people with which to work. Any bump in the road we dealt with together as a team.”

Bobby Hatoff, chairman of Chicago-based Allen Brothers Inc. and incoming NAMA immediate past chairman, was a member of both organizations and credits the leadership of the two groups for helping make the transition a smooth one.

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

Kimball notes that the associations had a long history of partnership prior to the merger.

“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, 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,” he says.


NAMA moving forward

NAMA promises to offer the best from the former associations. NMA has had a strong regulatory and legislative representation at USDA and on Capitol Hill, and it has focused on 24/7 regulatory assistance for in-plant problems. Along with its regulatory assistance, NAMP has focused on food safety and culinary education for the industry, with its numerous conferences, educational programs and the Meat Buyer's Guide.

“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,” says Carpenter. “This gives us the ability to give more assistance to more members on in-plant issues.”

Industry events like NMA's MEATEXPO and NAMP's Center of the Plate Training will continue in NAMA. The leadership of the two organizations have merged together creating co-officers to help oversee the transition. Tbe co-presidents will be Mike Satzow, president of North Country Smokehouse in Claremont, N.H., and Marty Evanson, president of Jobbers Meat Packing in Los Angeles.

“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.”

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

The first NAMA event will be the Outlook Conference, scheduled for October 25-28, 2012, at the J.W. Marriott Hill Country in San Antonio, Texas.