Nestlé decides to split with GMA – Politico


Nestlé's logo is pictured. | Getty

Nestlé has been at odds with the trade association on some of the most high-profile food issues in Washington in recent years.

Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, has decided to leave the Grocery Manufacturers Association at the end of the year, according to a source briefed on the decision.

The move, which comes after the Swiss company publicly broke from the trade association on key nutrition issues, is a major blow to the powerful food industry group, especially after Campbell Soup Co. announced it would leave the association in June.

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A representative for Nestlé declined to comment on the company’s decision. It coincides with the food maker’s plans to move its U.S. headquarters to the Washington area, which led some to speculate about whether the company would need GMA as much for lobbying and legislative issues in the future.

“Companies decide to join and leave trade associations for a variety of reasons over time,” said Roger Lowe, executive vice president of strategic communications at GMA, when asked to comment on the departure. “We are disappointed when a member company decides to leave our trade association and pleased when companies of all sizes join to be part of our work on consumer transparency, sustainability, product safety, nutrition and retailer collaboration.”

“Nestle’s participation in GMA will be missed, and we hope there will be a time when they will rejoin us,” Lowe added.

Nestlé has been at odds with the trade association on some of the most high-profile food issues in Washington in recent years. During the Obama administration, Nestlé was among a handful of companies that backed Obama administration effort to mandate added sugars labeling and encourage food companies to cut back on sodium voluntarily — two policies that GMA lobbied against.

Nestlé also helped push GMA to submit split comments on added sugars labeling to the FDA, so the association essentially included the pros and the cons of the policy rather than presenting a unified front opposing the idea. At the time, no one could recall a time when GMA had ever submitted such divergent comments on such a major — and controversial — regulatory issue.

“The food industry has a big opportunity to be much more transparent and engaging,” Paul Bakus, president of Nestlé Corporate Affairs, told POLITICO in 2015, adding, “I can’t tell you how quickly change has happened even in the last five years, or two years. It behooves these companies to be more progressive and transparent.”

It also became known in food policy circles that Nestlé officials weren’t in full support of GMA’s overt opposition to mandatory GMO labeling, although the company didn’t publicly speak out on the matter. In 2016, when GMO labeling was a particularly hot topic on Capitol Hill, GMA spent more than $4.7 million lobbying, according to disclosure records.

When Campbell Soup Co. announced in June that it would leave GMA at the end of this year, the company said it made a values-based decision after GMA had lobbied furiously against mandatory GMO labeling at the state, local and federal level.

Campbell Chief Executive Denise Morrison told investors at the time that the move was not for financial reasons but instead was “driven by purpose and principles.”

The Camden, N.J.-based company, which owns the Pepperidge Farm, Prego and V8 brands, had already publicly rebuked the biggest players in the food industry in 2016 after it said it would voluntarily label all of its products that contain genetically modified ingredients — an announcement that came right as lawmakers were trying to strike a deal to create uniform federal standards.

Congress ultimately passed legislation that required GMO ingredient disclosure, though companies are expected to be given options for how they disclose the information, such as through an online app or directly on the packaging. USDA is currently working on labeling rules.

Nestlé will not be too far away from GMA — at least physically. The conglomerate is in the process of moving its U.S. headquarters from Glendale, Calif., to Rosslyn, Va., and GMA is also planning to move its office to Rosslyn. The two offices will be right around the corner from each other.

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