(April 20) It’s about time.

That was John McClung’s reaction to the April 19 announcement that that the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association, Washington, D.C., and the International Fresh-cut Produce Association, Alexandria, Va., planned to join forces.

“There has been discussion of merging these two associations for years,” said McClung, president of the Texas Produce Association, Mission, a member of United’s government relations council and a former United vice president. “It’s not a new concept. I’m delighted it’s finally happened.”

The relationship between the fresh-cut association and United goes back to 1990 when the then 2-year-old National Association of Fresh Produce Processors — which later became IFPA — entered into a management contract with United. NAFFP was located in United’s office, and United’s staff provided support services until 1994, when the fresh-cut group changed its name, hired its own staff and moved out.

The memberships of the groups have until May 1 to vote on the merger.

Steve Grinstead, president of Pro*Act, Monterrey, Calif., and secretary-treasurer of United, said the boards of both associations approved the deal unanimously, and he expected membership voting would reflect that widespread support.

Barry Bedwell, president of the California Grape & Tree Fruit League, Fresno, and a United board member, also said he had no doubt the merger would be approved.

“As a manager of an association, what I look at is ‘does it provide service and value to the members?’” he said. “Analyzing the strength of the associations and the expertise of both staffs and the areas they have been good at working in, yes it makes logical sense. The end product will be an association that provides more value to its members.”

Gary Black, president of Condies Foods Inc., Salt Lake City, and an IFPA board member, said the merger was necessary because the association’s revenues had not kept up with rising costs. Though he voted for the agreement, he said he “hated to see it happen.”

Mike Stuart, president of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, Maitland, and a member of United’s government relations council, said the combined staff would be more efficient, while McClung said the organizations complemented each other.

“They’re retaining both staffs because there’s so little overlap,” McClung said. “You have two associations that are very relevant to the industry, but they don’t replicate each other’s services. You get nothing but a plus out of this.”

United and the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del., have talked about joining forces before. PMA president Bryan Silbermann estimated about 70% of United’s membership also belonged to PMA, but he said the last “substantial discussions” about merging those two associations was in 1995.

“Could it happen?” Silbermann said. “Sure, it could happen in the future, but it depends on whether the associations are providing relevance and value to their members. If not, the marketplace will drive them together. Frankly, I think competition is a good thing.”