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ID NEWS: 'New' IFDA spreads wings

The International Foodservice Distributors Association's (IFDA) maiden appearance as an independent trade organization turned into a major success as the industry welcomed this transformation with higher distributor and manufacturer attendance at its Partners Executive Forum in Washington last month.

At the same time, John F. Baugh, retired senior chairman and founder of Sysco Corporation, Houston, was honored by IFDA, with its first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award. The presentation was made at a special ceremony (ID Management Report, March 13, 2003 issue)

Six weeks after formally severing its ties with the National Association of Wholesale Grocers Association, the repositioned IFDA, Falls Church, VA, convened its annual Forum and member visits to Capitol Hill. With a full plate of internal, industry and government affairs to absorb, the IFDA board of directors and staff "jumped right from the frying pan into the fire," as John M. Gray, president and ceo, describes it.

"From a marketing perspective, we've repositioned this conference, telling our members that this isn't a meeting about how many cents off the case you can get It's a top-level meeting that deals with what's the business relationship really like between distributor and manufacturer," Gray explained. This new thinking has had a big impact on the participants, he said.

As an independent organization, IFDA now has the flexibility and responsibility to decide its own future, Gray pointed out: The board members took the mission to heart and worked intensively to chart their future and the meeting. "We established a corporate fee of $495, and distributors could bring as many people to the meeting as they wanted. That turned attendance around. We were up 40 percent on distributor attendance and 25 percent on manufacturer attendance. For a meeting that we had budgeted about 190 people, we had 342," he noted. "Turning around this meeting right away, at the beginning of the year, will leave everyone in the industry with a good impression about where we're going."

Government affairs along with industry issues are the two primary tasks of IFDA, and meetings on Capitol Hill "are what it's all about for the members," Gray continued, adding that the Board made the decision to convene this meeting here for at least the next three years.

Gray admits that he was surprised and encouraged by the membership's response to the renovated IFDA. Without ever having to deal with organizational and events' budgets, Gray says the Board demonstrated personal commitment to IFDA by resolutely addressing these and other issues.

"The Board voted a 50-percent increase in dues - that's a huge increase. The Board thought about this carefully and said two things: This is now our organization, it's our responsibility to maintain it, run it and control it. We want the manufacturer support and we welcome it, but the key driver is the member and the members have to feel that they are investing in this organization."

Not only have none of the current members complained about the new dues structure, Gray says all of them paid on time. Furthermore, the independent nature has attracted membership interest from former holdouts, one of which attended the forum. Others, including an ID Top 50 company, have pledged to join soon.

"In the past, distributors might have thought that they were joining a retail group. But now that they understand that they're strictly foodservice and the resources are strictly for foodservice, I think the comfort level is better. With the significant increase in interest, you have to say there's got to be some connection with independence at some level," Gray says.

With this clear mandate in hand, Gray points out that IFDA will now address major all-industry issues such as foodservice distributors' role in the supply chain. By working more closely with the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA), Gray hopes that distributors will be recognized for the value they bring to the supply chain. In addition to joint meetings and research projects with IFMA, Gray believes future plans should focus on "what are we supposed to be doing as a supply chain." Distribution is not just about moving cases from point A to point B, he adds.

While noting that ID, IFDA and the industry in general have been trying to do this for years, Gray says more work is needed.
"What you'll see is a more concerted effort on the industry-affairs side to develop a tighter relationship with the manufacturer community. We need to do a better job promoting ourselves as distributors to them, telling them that we are real customers of theirs," he explains. One mission, Gray adds, is to convince manufacturers that operators ultimately aren't their customers; distributors are. "In this supply chain, the distributors are their direct customers, because they're the ones who are actually paying the bills," he says. "We do really bring value to the supply chain."

ON THE HILL
Individually or in state delegations, foodservice distributors also spent an afternoon getting the message out on Capitol Hill. All told, 75 congressional offices were visited. In addition to waving the IFDA flag, as David French, senior vice president, government relations, says, the distributor executives informed the lawmakers that the industry has endorsed the President's economic growth package. The discussions also focused on repealing the estate tax, which is a big priority for family-owned businesses in the industry, country-of-origin labels and the Berry amendment.

French notes that many IFDA members have already invited their elected officials to visit their facilities to see what happens in a distribution center and help them understand the industry better. "We attempt to bring our members to town at least once a year to meet with their elected officials. This is an important industry in a lot of communities, with a lot of employees and with a lot of economic value. It is important that members of Congress understand what the economic impact of the meals-away-from-home industry is and what the whole sweep of the industry is in their communities," he says.

In the course of the forum, IFDA chairman Dan Gordon, president and ceo, Gordon Food Service, Grand Rapids, MI, announced that McCain Foods USA, Oak Brook, IL, was voted IFDA Supplier of the Year by the membership.

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