Representing the Makers of the World’s Favorite Food, Beverage and Consumer Products

GMA’s Best Days Are Ahead »

November 20, 2018

By Geoff Freeman, GMA president and CEO

My first 100 days at GMA have been productive – listening to voices across the industry, identifying areas of common cause and putting in place a high-performing team. Day-by-day, with the help of new senior leadership, we are pivoting from defense to offense. We have analyzed critical functions, targeted key investments and addressed gaps in strategy with a single goal in mind: building an association that is indispensable to the industry.

Defining Who We Are: Brands

To build that association, the first question we must answer is: who is the industry? In recent years GMA’s effectiveness has been hampered by trying to be all things to all people – from food and beverage to household and personal care; from prominent brands, food service and private label to agricultural components. Our future success depends on deciding who we are at our core.

I firmly believe that GMA’s best strategy is to become the association of consumer-facing brands. This defines our common ground — the challenges, risks and opportunities we all share and complex relationships with consumers, retailers and governments we all must manage. These brands will drive GMA’s future, and we will continue to welcome suppliers and partners who find common cause with our agenda.

Getting There from Here

The following critical pivots will provide our core membership with an association that can capture their imagination and deliver on their goals:

Promote Growth in a Vast, Complex Industry. From packaging to supply chain, countless issues drive consumer demand, impact brand equity and shape short- and long-term profitability. GMA’s new advocacy agenda will address each key component of our members’ businesses. At present, we are myopically focused on the food and beverage product: ingredient, nutrition and safety. Moving forward, we will expand our horizons to focus on removing frictions within packaging, supply chain and customer generation that pose barriers to growth.

• Establish a Proactive Agenda. When it comes to external engagement, we are currently operating on playing fields defined by our opponents — reacting to their critiques, rather than establishing our own objectives; allowing them to set the terms of debate, rather than driving a winning result based on terms we define. Going forward, our proactive agenda will be framed by three questions: What can we do for the industry that members alone cannot achieve? What are our top priorities? And, what is the strategy that will empower us to achieve our objectives?

• Tell the Industry’s Story on our Terms. Our industry’s massive economic footprint and vast social contributions improve communities across America. Yet instead of aggressively communicating these benefits, GMA is silent. Our critics, on the other hand, relentlessly shape a counter narrative about “Big Food” – and they are winning. Their voices, left to echo through our silence, define our industry as indifferent or even hostile to the needs of consumers. Brands effectively connect with consumers about their shared values; the broader CPG industry must do the same by confidently telling our industry’s story on our own terms.

Components of a Winning Strategic Plan

These pivots above will enable GMA to be relevant, but our goal is to be indispensable. While a longer-term strategy is still being formulated, I see five key components to driving GMA’s transition in 2019:

• Build a Nimble Organization that Can Execute an Advocacy Agenda. Our strategy is founded on creating a policy environment where our industry can thrive and grow. First and foremost, GMA must become known as a skilled and powerful industry advocate. To achieve this objective, we must build an organizational structure and best-in-class public affairs operation that can quickly adapt to issues that arise in the marketplace and seize fast-moving opportunities. To this end, many of GMA’s 110 legacy committees are likely to be eliminated.

• Maximize Progress Across Our Entire Industry. GMA’s number one responsibility is to do for the industry what individual members alone cannot achieve. Looking forward, projects that benefit only the few will be shelved in favor of those that create industrywide opportunity or address systemic risk.

• Adopt a Pro-Consumer Posture Oriented Towards Growth. Our mission will be growing the size of the overall pie, so our members can compete for share, not protecting the status quo. We will promote growth by removing frictions — inefficiencies, costs, barriers — from the marketplace. To best identify these frictions, GMA must think like business leaders and consumers. We will shift our day-to-day mindset to the pro-consumer concepts of affordable access, consumer choice and confidence, and product innovation.

• Define Clear Principles for Engagement. In the past, we have struggled with the question of how, when and to what end we should engage on complex product-specific issues. Why? Largely because we lack a set of overarching principles to guide our engagement. We can’t fight and expect to win every arbitrary or ill-defined battle. We must determine what GMA stands for — the red lines we will not cross — and use those criteria to evaluate issues as they emerge.

• Shape Perception to Drive Favorable Policy. I have always believed that perception drives policy – and our industry is no exception. By communicating our economic impact, social contributions, efforts to adapt to changing consumer preferences and investments in disruptive technologies, we can overcome the negative stereotypes that are being fueled by our opponents and reshape public perception of our industry. GMA will lead an ongoing, research-based campaign to shape the industry narrative and proudly tell our story.

As we arrive at this critical moment of strategic clarity, I am convinced that GMA’s best days are ahead. Change will not always come as quickly or easily as we would like, but I am confident that a trade organization focused on an advocacy agenda, supported by the right organizational structure and committed to driving greater industry growth is precisely what our industry needs today.

Navigating the Journey to Transparency with SmartLabel® »

August 3, 2018

By Matthew Allan

I recently returned from a trip down the Colorado River, and being at the bottom of the Grand Canyon without cell service or Netflix gave me an opportunity to reflect on the life of John Wesley Powell, the one-armed Civil War veteran who led the first federally-sponsored geographic study through the canyon. Powell’s expedition was fraught with danger and hardships, but he came out of it with the conviction that to truly see the Grand Canyon, “you have to toil from month to month through its labyrinths.” It would be hyperbolic to compare just about anything to an expedition into one of the last unmapped regions of the lower 48 states, but I’m more interested in the spirit that led Powell “down the Great Unknown,” as he called it.

I began working on the SmartLabel® project a year ago, and that coincidence has been invaluable in allowing me to track just how far this initiative has come since last August. The SmartLabel® database has now crossed 30,000 products, with just about 20,000 products added over the past year. These SKUs have come in from intrepid food, beverage, personal care, and household product companies, retailers, and emerging brands, all willing to do things a little bit differently. This growth is a testament to the investment that participating brands and service providers have made in greater product transparency and their confidence that this transparency can build trust and develop enduring relationships with their consumers.

We’ve often employed the metaphor of a journey when we talk about the SmartLabel® adoption process, and I like that language because journeys won’t always be simple. In this case, the monthly toil could be determining how to define “natural flavor” or “fragrance” in consumer-friendly language or providing new information on a brand’s sustainability practices. The companies participating in the SmartLabel® initiative have taken on this work because they know that it is the right approach for their brands and the industry going forward.

The consumer awareness campaign that launched in June is one of the first opportunities we’ve had to share the SmartLabel® journey with consumers. We had consumers discover the initiative before, either through search or engagement with a brand. But with 30,000 products, SmartLabel® had a significant presence on the shelves and it was time to promote SmartLabel® to consumers at large.

The campaign featured digital media, earned media, advertising, and other content to show consumers how they could get more information than could ever fit on a package label.

While it’s still relatively early in the scope of the entire campaign, there’s a lot to be excited about:

  • We partnered with an online influencer, the Johnson Family. A Johnson Family video on how SmartLabel® works for them has been viewed more than 260,000 times since early June, more than three times our initial goal.
  • The series of television, radio, and internet interviews about SmartLabel® with Sally Greenberg of the National Consumers League reached an audience of 40 million people.
  • Our @SmartLabelInfo featured organic digital content promoting the campaign earning 17.2k impressions and a 0.9% engagement rate in the first month.
  • Through a sponsorship with Today’s Dietitian, we reached registered dietitians with an e-blast to their contact list garnering a 76.7% open rate and 12.6% CTR.
  • SmartLabel® app downloads in June 2018 were higher than the combined download total for the two preceding months (April and May 2018). The app is available for iOS and Android
  • SmartLabel® and the #GoBeyondTheLabel hashtag even made their way to Times Square.



The early results are encouraging, but the effort to promote SmartLabel® to consumers is hardly done. Beginning in late July, metro riders here in the greater Washington, DC region will see a series of SmartLabel® advertisements designed to reach Millennial moms and Hill staffers alike. Participating brands have begun rolling out messaging targeted to their consumers.

If you’re interested in hearing more about these ongoing efforts, I hope you’ll join us at this year’s SmartLabel® Summit. Our office manages a digital asset toolkit that can help jumpstart your brands’ efforts to share the SmartLabel® journey with your consumers. Implementing SmartLabel® can feel like an expedition into the great unknown at times, and the Summit is a great opportunity to learn from others who have already navigated this journey.

Food and Consumer Product Fraud: Prevention and Mitigation »

April 18, 2018

By Brian Bedard, Executive Director, GMA Science & Education Foundation

Wood pulp in shredded Parmesan cheese.  Melamine in baby formula and pet food. Asian catfish sold as grouper.  Pomegranate juice cut with grape juice.  Honey diluted with beet sugar syrup. These are just some of the cases of product fraud involving food or beverage products that have occurred in the U.S. market in recent years.

In today’s global marketplace, there are inherent risks to the integrity of the supply chain and the authenticity of its food and consumer products. Some estimate that food fraud, or economically motivated adulteration (EMA) as it is also known, costs the world economy $49 billion annually and it has been estimated that about 10 percent of the food we purchase is likely adulterated. In addition to the public health risks, the impact on any one particular company can range from minor economic damage to financial ruin.  The growing complexity of the global supply chain has only made it more difficult for companies in our industry to prevent product fraud.

The issue of product fraud recently took center stage during a session at the GMA Science Forum in late March in Washington, DC.  The session built on a 2010 consumer product fraud report,

Consumer Product Fraud: Deterrence and Detection, released by ATKearney with the support of GMA and the GMA Science and Education Foundation (SEF).  It explored the evolving scope of issues and approaches to better understand, assess and prevent product fraud.  The session provided attendees with a look at the experiences and lessons learned by herbal supplement and pharmaceutical manufacturers on how best to prevent and mitigate product fraud.  The session also included an update on research at Michigan State University (MSU) supported by GMA and the SEF that attempts to more clearly define product fraud and address the growing confusion around this terminology so that companies can be better aligned in their efforts to attack the problem.

Dr. Holly Johnson of the American Herbal Products Association set the scene with some historical perspective.  She noted that product fraud was not a new phenomenon. She cited a report from 1853 which found that Prussian blue was often grounded and mixed with gypsum and then blended with Himalayan tea to ensure it presented the perfect green color that the tea drinkers of England expected at that time.

Dr. Johnson noted that the herbal sector today must contend with fraud cases involving the substitution and drug spiking of herbal remedies for male enhancement (laced with sildenafil), weight loss (laced with diuretics, laxatives) and athletic performance (laced with steroids). She stressed that enforceable FDA regulations supported by standards and specifications associated with the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), state-of-the-art industry testing methods and industry-wide transparency efforts have all been critical steps in preventing adulterated herbal products from reaching the marketplace.

Dr. Shabbir J. Safdar, Executive Director of the Partnership for Safe Medicines, highlighted past cases associated with heparin, cancer medications and, more recently, counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl.  Dr. Safdar said that industry collaboration has been a key component in addressing drug counterfeiting followed closely by stringent internal enforcement practices.

One of the first steps pharmaceutical companies took to combat the issue was to put in place personnel whose sole focus was on protecting brand security.  This led to closer collaboration with law enforcement agencies accompanied by more stringent internal investigations and robust monitoring of supply chains.  One such successful collaboration has been the Rx360 program of industry wide audits based on shared voluntary standards and a recognized compliance seal.

Safdar also said that international industry collaboration played an important part in efforts to combat counterfeiting.  Those collaborations included work with groups such as the International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition Inc., (IACC), the Pharmaceutical Cargo Security Coalition and the Pharmaceutical Security Institute.

Dr. John Spink from Michigan State University focused his discussion on food fraud and highlighted the preliminary results of joint research based on a global survey of food fraud terminology conducted by MSU, GMA and SEF.  While there was consensus among respondents in identifying food fraud as a food safety issue with 86% supporting that categorization, the research suggests that there is a lack of consensus within industry on the proper terminology to use for describing food fraud.

Of the terms included to represent “intentional deception for economic gain,” 50% preferred the use of “food fraud,” 15% sided with “economically motivated adulteration,” 9% selected “EMA,” 7% chose “food protection,” 5% preferred “food integrity,” 5% chose “food authenticity,” and 2% liked “food crime.”

Dr. Spink noted that the survey highlighted the confusion in food fraud-related terminology and how the potential overlap in definitions could impede industry efforts to address the issue.  He further stressed that given the current scope of food fraud in the global food marketplace, there is an urgent need to clarify definitions and terms that can collectively be used by companies to address food fraud on a global scale. CODEX is currently reviewing the definitions of food fraud in considerable detail and this work is expected to inform current efforts to achieve better consensus on the terminology around this issue.

The session provided attendees with some important insights and lessons learned on addressing product fraud.  The GMA and SEF are currently updating the ATKearney report to clarify the current scope of this issue and provide industry with guidance on how best to prevent and mitigate it going forward.  The updated report should be released by June.


When Observation Becomes Innovation: Lessons for the CPG Industry »

January 31, 2018

By Shannon Cooksey, Vice President, GMA Science and Regulatory Affairs

The seismic shift of consumer preferences paired with the evolution of science, has brought innovation to the forefront of the Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) industry. As the rate of exchange of information increases, it has become both an opportunity and necessity for CPG companies to explore new science, ideas and perspectives.

The CPG industry is not alone in facing major disruption in the marketplace. By observing how other industries have adapted or innovated the way they do business, CPG professionals can gain valuable insight and solutions to tackle the challenges they face today.

Grant Imahara, roboticist, animatronics engineer and modelmaker for some of Hollywood’s biggest box office hits, is a speaker at the upcoming GMA Science Forum, which is March 26-29. He will offer his perspective on innovation in the film industry. In advance of his appearance, Imahara responded to several questions –   and reveals the most memorable myth he debunked during his role on Discovery Channel’s hit show Mythbusters:

  1. You have worked as an animatronics engineer on many major motion pictures including Star Wars. How have you seen technology change the film industry and how do you see these changes translating to the CPG industry?

Imahara: In the mid-1990s, the visual effects industry experienced a quantum shift with the advancements in computer graphics. Suddenly, traditional ways of thinking and doing things were no longer preferred. As professionals, we had to adapt to new techniques to remain competitive. Adapt or become obsolete.

  1. The GMA Science Forum event brings the CPG science community together to discuss emerging science and innovation. Where do you find inspiration for your next innovation?

Imahara: Generally speaking, my inspiration usually comes from the world around me. Wherever I go, I look at the way things are made and how they work. I store this as a kind of “solution database” that constantly processes in the background. And when I need a stroke of inspiration, I search my database for something that I’ve seen that could be applied. In this way, the design for a robot’s arm could come from a bird’s wing or a funky latch I saw somewhere in my travels. I guess you could say inspiration is all around us!

  1. What was your most memorable food myth “busted” on Mythbusters?

Imahara: Hot Chile Cures. We tried all kinds of solutions including water, beer, tequila, vaseline, wasabi, and toothpaste – in the end, nothing was better than milk!

There is knowledge to be gained from those who have innovated and adapted to seize a new future. To hear more from Grant Imahara, join me at GMA’s 2018 Science Forum in Washington, D.C. – Register here today!

New Roadmaps for Navigating Disruption in Supply Chain, IT »

January 30, 2018

By Jim Flannery, Executive Vice President, Operations and Industry Collaboration

CPG companies enter 2018 contending with forces such as changing consumer needs, a new retail landscape that includes e-commerce, and new cost pressures. These hurdles are impacting every aspect of CPG company operations, including IT and supply chain. But along with these challenges also comes opportunity – and a chance for CPG companies to evolve alongside the rapidly changing digital landscape and harness new technologies and trends to foster growth.

Two timely new BCG reports commissioned by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) address how IT and supply chain leaders can navigate ongoing disruption pressures to help their CPG organizations emerge in stronger positions. The reports are based on industry surveys and related research, and can provide guidance for GMA member companies.

Looking first at the IT side, it’s evident that chief information officers face daunting balancing acts today. They are being asked to drive digital innovation to support their companies. However, instead of being provided with more resources for this endeavor, CIOs face increased budget constraints. The BCG/GMA benchmarking survey, called Accelerating Digital Innovation in CPG,” found that CPG companies have succeeded in reducing IT costs, but haven’t made nearly as much headway in prioritizing IT innovation.

BCG characterized CPG companies’ levels of IT innovation along a range that moves from “deliberators” at the low end, to “leaders” at the high end. Companies can use BCG’s definitions to help benchmark their own progress. Leaders show the highest IT spending as a percentage of revenue, pay more in compensation, work on more key digital transformation priorities, make better use of analytics, and are better at accelerating innovation internally.

However, what defines leadership is typically a moving target, as evidenced by the technologies companies have embraced over time. Not long ago companies were considered leading edge if they made some use of software as a service (SaaS) platforms and the cloud. Today, the report stated, these practices are increasingly the norm. Requiring more focus from CPGs today is the practice of agile development, the report added. Agile development has come to be associated with technology leaders such as Amazon, Google and Netflix. This highly collaborative form of development includes close working relationships between product owners and software teams to enable strategy shifts in real time.

The report found that the majority of CPG companies use agile development for less than one third of projects, and only half of companies plan to increase its use.  As a result, the report urged more focus on agile development with this pointed warning: “In five years, a CPG company that isn’t using agile for most of its development projects will likely find it difficult to be competitive in terms of digital technology.”

Turning to the supply chain side, a new BCG/GMA benchmarking study found some good news in the form of improved service levels — in areas such as case fill rates and average on-time delivery.

However, in exploring the biggest supply chain disruptors, the report, called “How CPG Supply Chains are Preparing for Seismic Change,” found that retail “channel proliferation is the greatest impediment to on-time delivery performance.” This is particularly true when CPGs serve the emerging crop of smaller format retailers, especially online retailers, versus their traditional larger-format customer base that includes grocery, club and mass. This is because CPGs have longer and more collaborative working relationships in place with the bigger format retailers. However, those mainstream retail customers are under more pressure, and are ramping up on-time delivery requirements with new financial penalties for falling short.

The report urged specific actions for CPG company supply chain operations to satisfy both increased customer needs and their own business requirements. These include seeking new efficiencies; bolstering their ability to hire and retain employees with analytical skills; gearing up for e-commerce; making better use of big data and digital tools; and improving collaborative relationships with customers, especially when it comes to alternative and e-commerce channels.

While IT and supply chain are different business functions, they face many of the same CPG industry challenges and can each benefit from taking new approaches to technology and other strategies. These reports are useful guides for companies to build their game plans in 2018 and beyond. The reports can be downloaded at these links: Accelerating Digital Innovation in CPG and How CPG Supply Chains are Preparing for Seismic Change.

Food and Agriculture Trade in the Asia Pacific – Facilitating Trade and Driving Growth »

November 15, 2017

By: Melissa San Miguel- Senior Director, Global Strategies-Multilateral Affairs

Each November, the leaders of 21 of the world’s fastest-growing economies from both sides of the Pacific gather at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Annual Leaders Meeting to set the agenda for trade and growth in the region. Fair trade in the Asia-Pacific region is a key priority for our industry, where exports help drive growth and support our 2.1 million jobs here at home. That’s why we at GMA are delighted that President Trump has identified removing non-tariff barriers to food trade as a high priority for APEC going forward (White House fact sheet).

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