(April 20) Say hello to the United Fresh Produce Association.

Combining to create a stronger organization, the boards of Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association and the Alexandria, Va.-based International Fresh-cut Produce Association have voted to approve a merger.

Members from both associations will vote on the merger by May 1, and a simple majority will set in motion plans for the rebranded association to bring IFPA staff to United’s current headquarters on Pennsylvania Ave. later this year.

“What we have here is that both associations are constantly looking at how to bring more value to our members and this is a value-added proposition,” said Nick Tompkins, United chairman and president and chief executive officer of Guadalupe, Calif.-based Apio Inc. Tompkins said the combined association will bring cost efficiency to industry work in food safety, political advocacy and consumption advocacy.

IFPA chairman Mark Miller, president and owner of Energy Sprouts, Inc./Fresh From Texas, San Antonio, said the merger is member-driven.

“We reviewed the merger with United and felt that it was the best thing for our members to enhance their services,” he said. Miller particularly noted the role of political advocacy and lobbying that United brings that IFPA has never emphasized.

“IFPA has been strong in food safety and technical issues, but as the industry has changed and grown, we need to have that government affairs component, and we will have that with the combined association,” he said.

In fact, United reported to the IRS $257,000 in lobbying and political expenditures in 2004-05, compared to no lobbying expense for IFPA in 2004.

BIGGER ROLE FOR PROCESSORS

Jerry Welcome, president of IFPA and scheduled to be executive vice president for business development for the merged association, said the needs of processors would be an area of focus for the United Fresh Produce Association.

Tom Stenzel, president of United, also designated to be president and chief executive officer of the merged association, said fresh cut has become mainstream and the new association will reflect that.

“We together have a huge obligation to pay attention to the needs of people who are doing processing and fresh-cut operations, and it is going to be a huge priority in the new association,” he said.

Stenzel said the combined associations have about 1,100 total members. Of that number, roughly 100 are members of both associations; 250 are members of IFPA only and 750 are members of United only, he said.

For the current year, Stenzel said United has a budget of about $5.5 million, while IFPA’s budget is $2.5 million.

United’s 2005-06 budget increased about $500,000 from 2004-05, while IFPA’s budget climbed from near $1.6 million in 2004 to $2.5 million in 2006, in large part because of a doubling of membership dues, said Jerry Welcome, president of IFPA.

With cost saving efficiencies, the combined 2006 budget of the two groups will be about $7.5 million.

APRIL VOTE

Both boards voted unanimously in mid-April to seek members’ endorsement of the mergers and a vote by electronic ballot was expected to be sent to voting members of each group April 19. The associations asked their members to vote by May 1, and the results of the vote were expected to be announced May 6 at the United Produce Show at FMI in Chicago.

If the intent to merge is approved by members of both associations, the United Fresh Produce Association could be rolled out as a fully merged association at the Washington Public Policy Conference on Sept. 12 in Washington, D.C., according to Amy Philpott, vice president of marketing and industry relations for United.

She said an organizational steering committee would be appointed by each board in May following formal membership approval.

The steering committees will co-chaired by Miller, chairman of IFPA and Maureen Marshall, who then will be chairwoman of United and is co-owner of Elba, N.Y.-based Torrey Farms Inc.

That steering committee will recommend procedures for leadership succession in the merged association, Philpott said.

Upon completion of the merger, a new board of directors will be seated, with invitations extended to all current directors of IFPA and all current and May 2006 incoming directors of United.