The lobbying group for the $2 trillion consumer goods industry is bouncing back after a series of disappointing years, boosting its membership ranks by a third in 2020.
The Consumer Brands Association is set to announce Thursday the addition of more than two-dozen new members, including the makers of Miller Lite, OxiClean, Sargento cheese, and Utz potato chips. It’s a significant development for the group, which notched a number of wins last year despite a pandemic that roiled many associations on K Street.
Geoff Freeman, who’s helmed the group since August 2018, says he’s only getting started. He intends to further grow Consumer Brands and start influencing policy coming from Capitol Hill, including overhauling the U.S. recycling system, and from the Biden administration.
“Regulation is no longer a four-letter word. We know their agencies are going to be more active. And we’re going to have to work closely with those agencies to identify what is in the best interest of consumers,” Freeman said. Creating uniform federal regulations for products such as CBD is among the association’s top priorities.
The announcement touting the new members, shared first with Bloomberg Government, comes a year after the group rebranded itself and announced a new mission. It also marks a turnaround after a number of prominent members departed in 2017 and 2018.
The 18 consumer packaged goods members added since the beginning of 2020 include ButcherBox, the Honest Co., Molson Coors Beverage Co., Hostess Brands Inc., and Sargento Foods Inc., a 31% increase in core membership. Companies adjacent to the industry, such as Amazon.com Inc. and Instacart Inc., have also come to the association over the past year.
“They proved their mettle this past year. They are clearly plugged in in Washington,” said Matt Farrell, chairman, president and CEO of another new Consumer Brands member, Church & Dwight Co. Inc., the maker of brands like OxiClean, Arm & Hammer products, Trojan condoms and Nair hair removal.
Last November, Consumer Brands welcomed back Campbell Soup Co., which left the organization — then called the Grocery Manufacturers Association — in 2017 after finding itself at odds with the group’s stances on policy issues, including a fierce opposition to the labeling of GMO ingredients.
Nine other food giants, including Tyson Foods Inc., followed the company out the door. Freeman has been trying to woo all of them back since he took over, promising a revamped mission and focus on consumers.
Consumer Brands is “driving a focused, consumer-centric agenda that aligns well with Campbell’s goals,” said Thomas Hushen, spokesman for Campbell Soup, which makes Goldfish crackers, V8 juice, and Prego pasta sauces.
Andy Callahan, the CEO of new member Hostess, was an executive at Tyson when the company made the decision to leave the Grocery Manufacturers Association.
“Those are some of the most meaningful things to me,” Freeman said of those who’ve returned.
Carolyn Tastad, the group president of North America for Procter & Gamble Co., said the shift away from being known as “Big Food” and engaging in divisive battles and toward representing the entire packaged goods industry made a tangible difference, which became notable during the pandemic.
Consumer Brands “played a huge role in keeping the industry together in responding to the Covid challenges,” said Tastad, the vice chair of the group’s board.
The group’s leadership touts its successful lobbying on steps that helped get food and products to consumers when supplies were threatened to run short last year. That includes pushing for the Justice Department to take a strong stance against price gouging of products such as hand sanitizer, securing an “essential” designation for the industry’s workers, lifting weight restrictions for trucks and extending hours-of-service for drivers, and working with regulators to speed disinfectant approvals.
Expanding broadband access will be a key issue in any infrastructure package on Capitol Hill. The organization is a part of the American Connection Project Broadband Coalition, which was formed by Consumer Brands member Land O’Lakes Inc. It aims to expand broadband Internet access throughout the country, with a particular focus on rural areas.
While Covid-19 threw the influence industry a curve ball, and upended the agenda that Consumer Brands had set out for the year, Freeman says the group was still able to make headway on a number of priorities, including its mission to overhaul the nation’s recycling infrastructure.
It founded the Recycling Leadership Council. That coalition of groups developed a set of recommendations for inclusion in any infrastructure package.
“We don’t really have a good infrastructure in the U.S for recycling of waste. Plastic, for example, is public enemy number one — how is that going to be solved over the next 5, 10, 20 years, and can consumer products companies advocate for a solution for that?” said Farrell of Church & Dwight.
Pushing Congress to collect data on commercial and residential recycling programs is a key starting point for Consumer Brands to determine the extent of the systemic problems. The coalition has also called for adding more recycling bins in public spaces and creating a federal block grant program for state and municipal governments to improve or expand their recycling infrastructure or programs.
The efforts have garnered bipartisan support from a range lawmakers, including Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska); and Reps. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.) and Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio). Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) will be speaking about packaging sustainability at the Consumer Brands board meeting this week.
“We’re going to be leading those conversations and ensuring that we can advance some of the really important ideas that were released by the Recycling Leadership Council, and we’re already hard at work on those,” Freeman said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Megan R. Wilson in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org