From The Cranberry Institute To Pickle Packers International: A Guide To Food Industry Trade Groups

Image courtesy of Ben Schumin

There are thousands of trade groups in America. Probably hundreds of thousands. And although we most often hear from the groups representing industries like cable, tech, or banking, pretty much everyone out there has another someone out there collecting their dues and writing to Congress on their behalf. In the world of food, those groups can get as specific as every ingredient in your evening dinner.

And all together, these organizations — literally hundreds of them, large and small — send an enormous amount of money through Capitol Hill and the politicians who work there.

“Food” may look like a coherent industry from the outside, but from the inside, well… markets fragment.

Agriculture and farming are of course vital to our survival and our economy, but we don’t just have one large trade group for agriculture. We also have specific groups for growers and sellers like the Almond Board, the Cherry Marketing Institute, the California Avocado Commission, the Apricot Producers of California, the National Onion Association, the California Pear Advisory Board, the American Soybean Association, and the Cranberry Institute (not to be confused with the Cranbrook Institute)… and these are just the start.

Cattle are big business, and so is everything dairy. Which is why there is everything from the Dairy Science Association, to the Dairy Products Institute, the milk-focused International Dairy Foods Association, the even more specific National Yogurt Association, and the high-society cheeseballs at the American Cheese Society.

We have trade groups for for specific breeds of bovine —  jersey, charolais, guernsey, hereford, brahman, and holstein among them.

And that’s without even really touching the plentiful groups representing beef and, well… just meat in general, as well as meat processing and other delicious animals.

We’re not even getting into the groups representing beers, wines, sodas, spirits, coffees, teas, bottled water, and any other liquid refreshment you can possibly think of. Or still dozens more organizations representing all parts of the delicious confections — from wheat to flour to sugar and eggs and baked goods, chocolate, and pie — that you can have with a nice cuppa.

But what we can do is have a look at who the biggest players are. And, for fun, the strangest.

Livin’ Large

Most of the biggest donors in each subcategory of food and beverage are specific companies — Anheuser-Busch, for example, or General Mills. But although the trade groups are not the largest overall donors, they’re still moving a significant amount of money to lawmakers. Food, farm, agriculture, grocery, and related businesses are big givers to politicians on both sides of the aisle as well as to SuperPACs.

In the 2014 election cycle — last year’s midterms — the biggest donors among the food trade groups were, according to the Center for Responsive Politics:

1.) National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, $853,165
The NCBA represents exactly who and what it sounds like: a group to advocate for cattle farmers and ranchers. They describe their mission statement as, “A dynamic and profitable beef industry, which concentrates resources around a unified plan, consistently meets global consumer needs and increases demand.”

2.) National Pork Producers’ Council, $419,094
Like the beef folks, the Pork Producers Council represents exactly who you think. The NPPC says the organization, “conducts public-policy outreach on behalf of its 43 affiliated state associations, enhancing opportunities for the success of U.S. pork producers and other industry stakeholders by establishing the U.S. pork industry as a consistent and responsible supplier of high-quality pork to the domestic and world markets.”

3.) Dairy Farmers of America, $411,750
Once again, this organization represents exactly who you’d think. The DFA does provide services and connections for its member farms large and small, but it also has a significant lobbying arm.

4.) National Chicken Council, $301,900
If you are sensing a theme in the clarity of names for food trade groups, well-spotted. The National Chicken Council represents all the businesses that farm and sell chickens that you eat, or the stuff you eat made from them (like nuggets). It does not, however, have anything to do with eggs or the chickens farmed for the laying of them.

5.) American Bakers Association, $285,500
Do you cook it in an oven, out of grain? Yes? Then you and your product are probably represented by the American Bakers Association. The ABA represents makers of both sweet and savory items, whole wheat bread to sugar-filled snack pies.

And rounding out the top ten, we also have:

  • National Turkey Federation, $234,100
  • International Dairy Foods Association, $228,355
  • Grocery Manufacturers Association, $209,110
  • American Meat Institute, $169,775
  • United Egg Association, $160,100

Narrow Scope

So sure, as far as food special interests go, cattle farmers have a long, long reach. They are the most special of the special interest trade groups, spending double what the hog farmers do.

But size, as they say, isn’t everything. Sometimes, you need a small, tailored group — an organization that really gets your trials and tribulations, and can hook you up with the people you need to see.

And so, although none of these organizations is donating the wads of cash needed to make a contributor top-10 list, the narrowness of their scope did tickle our fancy. In no particular order:

Pasta: If you love your spaghetti, well, the National Pasta Association loves you.

Dressings and Sauces: Whenever you pour some vinaigrette on your salad or save some marinade for your steak, spill out a drop for the Association for Dressings and Sauces.

Pie: America: we have a Pie Council. An entire organization “designed to raise awareness, enjoyment, and consumption of pies.” While pies probably don’t exactly suffer from a lack of awareness, most of us would be happy to agree to do our part to increase consumption. (Cherry, please.)

Pickles: Pickle Packers International is willing to play along, and provides, among other things, “A Peck Of Perfectly Plausible Pickle And Pickled Pepper Facts” on their website.

Country Ham: It’s not just pork. It’s not just ham. It’s very specifically salt-cured country ham, that which basically makes you feel like the roof of your mouth might fall off but is still mysteriously delicious. So of course it has its own advocacy group, the National Country Ham Association.