SFA: Leading with Change

by James A. McCarthy
President & CEO
Snack Food Association
I just returned from our annual Top Management Seminar in Palm Beach, Fla. The theme of our senior executive conference was “Embracing the Waves of Change.” It was a highly successful meeting featuring excellent speakers on the economy, politics and management theory in practice.
But our theme was apt, as the people of Florida have had to embrace the waves of change due to the four major hurricanes that have crisscrossed that state and left devastation in the wake. We decided to hold our meeting despite concerns about another hurricane in the Atlantic, as we recognized the need to face the threat and get on with business for our sake and the people of south Florida as well.
I mention this meeting, as I believe it is a good analogy for the state that many in the food industry find themselves today. We are constantly facing change, and much of it lately appears to come in a pattern of waves. I believe SFA has helped the snack industry weather this change well and has helped find ways to turn a negative change into a positive result.
For example, on the public policy front, we still are addressing concerns with the 2002 discovery of the chemical acrylamide in a wide variety of cooked foods. This year alone, SFA has petitioned the governor of California to delay the listing of acrylamide as a carcinogen on food packaging in California under that state’s Proposition 65 law until the science is known and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has made some determination about its impact on food safety.
We also have worked with a renowned toxicologist to submit appropriate comments to the U.S. National Toxicology Program prior to its May 19 report, addressing specific concerns that were raised during that group’s public hearings. These were important developments this year that SFA needed to address on behalf of our membership. We trust that the outcome will result in a much clearer understanding of the science and the options in dealing with this issue.
On the health and nutrition front, SFA has responded to numerous news media reports and fought a number of federal and state initiatives to ban or tax snacks by blaming snack foods, seemingly alone, for the rise in obesity. Although SFA recognizes that there is a problem with obesity in this country, we also recognize that seemingly simple solutions, such as taxing or banning snacks, are not the answer.
SFA has been active on a number of fronts to educate the public on diet and exercise and the important role they play in a healthy lifestyle. We are full participants, for example in Activate and the Kidnetic program to educate the public and children, in particular, on healthy living. SFA also has developed a new brochure, titled “Snacks Fit, Choose Balance,” which will be made available to our members for distribution to consumers through retailers and other channels.
Of course, public policy concerns are not our only challenge. The changes in the marketplace from the low-carb craze to the labeling of trans fatty acids have made keeping pace with marketplace and regulatory demands a constant challenge. SFA has made these and many other important topics our top priority for our annual seminars and our annual convention, SNAXPO. At our Management Workshop Seminar in Cleveland and our next convention, SNAXPO 2005 in Florida this coming March, SFA has cutting-edge educational sessions allowing attendees to meet the challenges in the marketplace today. Additionally, our annual Routing for Dollars contest during Snack Food Month and our annual Halloween snack sales contest add value to the snack category every year.
SFA tracks the marketing and retail trends that affect its members. Each year, SFA partners with Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery magazine to produce the highly anticipated “State of the Industry” report. This comprehensive report includes sections on bakery foods and specialty snacks, in addition to salty snacks.
The association also publishes articles on trends and other hot topics affecting snack food manufacturers in its section in SF&WB magazine. More detailed information on these trends is provided on the “Members Only” section of SFA’s Web site. A yearly membership survey provides even more information on what’s happening in the snack food industry.
During the past year, SFA had the opportunity to promote snacks in a positive light on national television. On August 16, 2004, SFA was featured on the Food Network TV show, “Recipe for Success.” The show highlights entrepreneurs in the food industry. The Aug. 16 episode was on two snack food entrepreneurs. In the final segment of the show, SFA spokespeople discussed marketing snack foods and trends in the industry. Earlier in the year (the week of March 7), SFA staff was featured on the Food Network show, “What America Eats.”
SFA is not content to simply address the changes that confront our industry. We are leading new changes of our own to better enhance the value of SFA membership. For example, SFA will co-host the Real Deal Expo with the American Wholesale Marketers Association (AWMA) Feb. 23-25 in Las Vegas. SFA is joining with AWMA to provide an opportunity for SFA members to exhibit to wholesale distributors at the AWMA member exhibit rate.
SFA also recently signed an agreement with the FoodFleetXchange program, which provides SFA members that own or manage their own fleets of trucks to have access to the leveraged buying power of one of the largest trucking aggregations in the country, offering some of the best everyday buying power for fleet managers. Additionally, SFA will sign an agreement on Nov. 4 with a well-known Mexican organization, Canacintra, to exchange information and assistance between the U.S. and Mexico on changes in regulations, technical information and opportunities for better trade between the industries in our two countries.
In summary, SFA has faced many challenges throughout the last year. We have responded to those challenges by seizing the opportunity to represent the snack industry through education and communication. We also have looked for and embraced opportunities that will enhance the membership in SFA. As we all know, change is inevitable. The real question is how you use change to your advantage. I believe SFA is helping lead the industry to take advantage of the opportunities before us.
For more information on SFA, visit www.sfa.org.