July 20, 2017

The Business End of Our Association

Few things make me cringe more than being told, “That’s the way it’s always been done.” It represents a way of thinking that can stifle imagination, innovation and creativity, and in any competitive marketplace it almost always leads to failure. We take great care here at Western Growers to continually ask ourselves, and our members, what needs to change, what do we need to do differently, what do we need to create, and to do all of it at the speed of an entrepreneurial business. Our members do that every day; they should expect nothing less from their trade association.

We recognize that we exist for one purpose: “To enhance the competitiveness and profitability of our members.” One way we fulfill this mission is by providing competitive products and services that boost their bottom line.

This requires us to operate in the same industrious manner as our members, and to make smart investments in new ideas today that will reap extraordinary rewards for our members in the future. This requires us to look into the distance and anticipate the challenges—both seen and unseen—that will impact our member operations.

Take, for instance, product recalls. When I ask our members what keeps them up at night, invariably they mention the financial liability related to recalls. To date, no insurance program has been available to help our members manage this type of risk. Quite frankly, the only options were off-the-shelf policies that did not meet the unique needs of the agriculture and food industries. Then Western Growers got involved. We searched the global insurance marketplace to develop a proprietary product that addresses the three main types of financial liability associated with contamination recalls. This product—The Shield™—covers personal injuries related to the contamination, the costs associated with conducting the actual recall, and any loss of the product itself. I imagine our members will breathe a collective sigh of relief when they hear more about this game-changing program.

WG members have come to expect innovative endeavors from us. Initiatives like contamination recall protection stem from the same philosophical roots that were planted 92 years ago in the Imperial Valley with the founding of Western Growers. A commitment to advancing the common interest of our members has driven one bold idea after another, as it did with the creation of the Western Growers Assurance Trust in 1957.

At the time, health benefits for the agriculture industry were not available from major health insurance carriers. Western Growers stepped in to fill the void, and has been providing member-driven, service-oriented and agricultural-specific health benefits for the past six decades. Along the way, we have leveraged our expertise to form other insurance-related entities, including our brokerage firm, Western Growers Insurance Services and our third-party administration company, Pinnacle Claims Management, Inc.

These entities, along with other revenue-generating programs developed within the Western Growers Family of Companies over the years, provide market-based solutions at competitive rates to meet the varied needs of our members. Herein lies the beauty of the Western Growers model. While enhancing the profitability of our member companies, the revenues derived from these products and services fuel the association, allowing us to deploy the industry’s most talented professionals who pursue an ever-growing portfolio of strategic initiatives aimed at protecting and enhancing our members’ bottom lines. We can do all this with one of the lowest member dues structures in the industry, which has remained unchanged during my 15-year tenure at Western Growers.

As an example, in 2012, Western Growers’ war chest allowed us to lead an industry effort targeting (and successfully ousting) two particularly hostile California state legislators through an independent expenditure campaign. The unexpected outcome of the election sent shockwaves through the Capitol and put the California Legislature on notice. We are looking to replicate this program in the 2018 election cycle.

Western Growers funds have gone to support an array of other strategically-important activities ranging from Cultivate California, a public relations campaign designed to reframe the debate about agricultural water use, to the Center for Produce Safety, where we contributed $1million to aid in the development of science-based solutions to produce safety vulnerabilities, to the WG Center for Innovation & Technology, which has grown to more than 40 startup and development stage companies working on technology to solve the most pressing challenges facing our members.

All of this comes from a non-profit trade association. But look underneath and you find a family of companies, both for-profit and non-profit, that drive toward the same common purpose: To enhance the competitiveness and profitability of our members. Our newest venture—development and deployment of a viable market-based solution to managing the risk around food recalls—is the crystallization of that mission statement.