To keep the future of ROFDA viable, David Smith, ROFDA board member and president of AWG, emphasized that a core value of the association is its share group activities.
“It’s there that we find ways to tackle common problems that we have in our industry and our respective businesses, and we can learn from each other instead of each organization working on the same issues independently. We also have transparency between our companies and our groups. Our leadership teams are all very close to each other,” Smith said.
“And they feel comfortable reaching out to their peers that are facing those same challenges. That collectively helps each of our companies, as the relationships have become a real force multiplier.”
Smith thinks ROFDA has been relatively successful in establishing collaboration between the wholesaler companies within ROFDA and vendor and supplier partners that work with them. But he said there is still room for improvement.
“What we haven’t done yet, is we haven’t combined that share group and joint problem-solving process,” Smith said. “So the opportunity is with establishing meaningful interaction, collaboration and joint problem-solving that involves vendors and suppliers as true partners in the process.
“When we come together at ROFDA, our efforts have been around share groups, which was one-to-one interaction between the cooperatives. And we made connections with the vendors and suppliers.”
But Smith went on to say there needs to be collaboration toward problem-solving and peer learning among cooperatives, vendors and suppliers. ROFDA plans to expand this and intends to use it as an accelerator to add value to all ROFDA companies and RAC (ROFDA Advisory Council) members and all of their associates involved.
Historically, wholesale food cooperatives have been the only wholesale members participating in ROFDA. But Smith sees many innovative wholesalers across the country that are also philosophically aligned with ROFDA member companies and prioritize being the best supply source they can be for independent grocers.
“And since we’re all in the roles to support and help the independent grow and prosper, we believe that there are also companies that haven’t formally been a part of ROFDA that can join with us that share the same common purpose,” he said. “And we think that has some value and can add some perpetuity to our purpose through ROFDA.”
Thoughts on new president
Smith sees many benefits with bringing on a president, Jeff Pedersen, who will be able to dedicate his full time to the interests of ROFDA.
“I think that our supplier companies participating in ROFDA, especially the RAC group and the supplier vendor partners, all have a strong desire to have someone that represents ROFDA that they can go to on a day-to-day basis that represents ROFDA and understands our collective needs,” he said.
“That’ll help bring us together as a more focused and successful organization of companies with a common purpose. Our new CEO clearly understands our businesses, as he has decades of experience in it and the challenges and needs of those we serve and has a heart for serving the independent grocer. He also has a proven track record of being able to bring together companies that, in many ways, compete with each other, to focus on achieving the common good.”
In discussing how this role plays into relationships with the vendor community, having a single point of contact will facilitate the start of new and more meaningful dialogues. “The CPG companies, the vendors, suppliers and service providers – they’re looking for a way to engage with the independent sector,” Smith said.
“In this post-COVID world, supplier companies see that independent’s market share and appeal is on the rise, so they are anxious to engage and work on win-win strategies to grow within this important sector. And since the ROFDA group is solely focused on the independent, they want to figure out how they can align their programs and become the provider of choice for those independents with those associated companies. Our role is to vet those companies to find the ones that we know are reliable and provide good products and good services.
“As it’s challenging to try to reach out to all the different ROFDA companies individually, having that leader for ROFDA gives them a single point of contact that brings that group together and starts to establish that dialogue to build and develop those strategic alignments between those companies and providers.”
Where ROFDA is today
“I think early on, for many of us in this generation of ROFDA members, there was some level of frustration over the lack of progress from procurement initiatives. I think there was a widely held belief that we should buy together, I mean, physically buying truckloads of a product together,” Smith said.
“I don’t think that the vendors ever believed it, but somehow we as the wholesalers thought that. And at the end of the day, it proved out that it just wasn’t feasible. It didn’t make sense. The timing and the different needs and tastes – just didn’t work. There were no real opportunities to centralize procurement activities across our companies.”
Sitting down with RAC this year, it became more apparent to ROFDA wholesalers that they needed to do more of what they were good at, building out more capacities around sharing helping independent retailers, vendors and supplier partners to achieve a common purpose.
“We also thought that this exclusive nature of being limited to cooperatives only also was holding us back from being able to achieve more,” Smith said. “I think that it gave us a better calibration around what our key objectives should be. Since it now feels like these are things that we are highly competent in accomplishing, I think members all feel better about our purpose.”
For more information, visit rofda.com.