Unilever and Tyson Foods have announced that they will not be renewing their Grocery Manufacturers Association memberships in 2018. These two major food companies follow Campbell Soup, Nestlé, and Dean Foods in announcing their departures from the trade association.
While neither Tyson nor Unilever has gone into detail over the precise reasons behind their decisions, Unilever told Politico that the company intended to increase its focus on “advocacy aligned with delivering our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan,” which includes goals for reducing water and greenhouse gas emissions as well as reducing sugar, salt, and trans fat in the company's products. Tyson, meanwhile, indicated plans of “moving towards a more global discussion about the future of food.” Earlier this month, the meat giant announced that it would be increasing its stake in plant-based meat brand Beyond Meat after its initial investment in 2016 for a five percent stake in the business.
Mars also announced in early December that it would not be renewing its membership with the GMA, releasing a statement noting its intention to shift toward “working with other like-minded companies” in the future.
In the past, these companies have found themselves facing off with the GMA over major industry issues, including GMO labeling laws, added sugar labeling, and voluntary sodium reduction. These differences of opinion have undoubtedly contributed to these major food company departures, according to Nick Fereday, executive director of food and consumer trends at Rabobank.
“For the longest time, the GMA was very conservative,” he tells FoodNavigator-USA. “Individual companies didn’t have to take a stance on issues because they could just defer to their trade association, but that’s changing. On issues such as GMO labeling or added sugar, companies were starting to see that consumers were heading in a different direction."
Fereday says these departures from the GMA are “part of a wider story” concerning a change in the food market: influence is shifting away from big food companies to consumers, thanks in large part to social media, and companies are forced to change policies in order to suit consumer demand for more transparency and healthier food options.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association represents roughly 250 member companies from the food and beverage industry.
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