Her Role, The Rule, The Future: NAMA CEO Speaks Out

Dec. 8, 2014

In a VMW TV exclusive, VMW Editor Emily Refermat sits down with NAMA CEO Carla Balakgie to discuss her role as the head of the industry's association, the FDA's recent ruling on calorie labeling regulations in vending machines and new initiatives NAMA will take in the coming year. 

Emily: This December marks your three year anniversary as the leader of NAMA. At this point, what do you really see your role in the organization and in the industry in general as?

Carla: Evolving, just like the industry. From the time I entered the door, I've tried to listen and I continue to do that in a very purposeful way. I have represented the industry I believe well and vocally over the last three years, but now I believe my role is to continue to represent and advocate on behalf of the industry, increasingly in a public arena. Now, I've spoken to our membership a lot over the years, I have spoken to key audiences and I particularly anticipate in the external capacity that my role will continue to evolve and that is in the media both industry and mainstream, it's in Washington and it is wherever the, if you want to call them "battles," or the discourse is taking place. To really give voice to what this industry represents, both in terms of its needs and its potential. So that's one. Really an increase and accelerated role as a spokesperson to and for the industry. And on the two part, and this perhaps directs to our constituents both current and prospective is to be a greater truth-teller. 

Emily: Would you like to go into that a bit more?

Carla: Telling the truth about the wonderful...you know, the people we are attempting to influence, it is certainly telling all of the wonderful things we have and continue to do in a specialty retailer, away from home or consumer-oriented market, of course. But it's also having the conversations, the promising ones and the tough ones, about what it's going to take to realize our potential. And you've heard me talk about change, but talking in truthful, reasonsed business cases, kind of ways about the pathways forward and the choices we have to make, hard and easy, the investments we have to make, the payments we have to put forward...providing the thought leadership and the voice to how to really capitalize on the future. I don't know if I'm saying anything different, but I'm saying it differently.

Emily: Does any of this have anything to do, perhaps, with the industry's feelings most recently on the FDA's final ruling on calorie disclosure? Would you see this as a topic that you would be a truth teller on?

Carla: Um, yeah I believe so. I can't say that I know exactly how the industry feels about the calorie disclosure rules so, suffice it to say they came out earlier this week. And the amount of complexity, well, first of all, the amount of regulatory activity and rules that are being pumped out into the system are a homework project bar none. So I think the devil is really in the details in that we have the broad brush strokes of what it means, but we really have to understand, negotiate and advocate on the allocation and enforcement of those rules. So to know whether or not it's an opportunity or challenge, it's probably both. What I do know for certain is that the work that we did, in both telling a great story, in being a good partner and arguing the hard stuff with the FDA positioned our industry better than many and most and that is by their own admission. There were many industries that were taken by surprise with calorie disclosure, not knowing that it was going to reach as far as it did, some of the bricks and mortar like grocery store retailers and not only was our voice heard, the FDA mentioned us in their blog as one of their most influential and benefitial partnerships as they were doing their due diligence and making the tough choices. They gave us a longer compliance time, and they accepted our request for front of pack labeling. So if the products have the information and our members are able to do something as simple, if this is as simple as it sounds, our operators are able to position a product in a machine with the calorie label on the package and our manufacturer companies are able to comply with the sizing of that, I'd say that's a pretty good thing. So I hope the industry feels like, well, that's as good as it may've gotten. It could've been much worse. And again, we are going to continue to scrutinize it. The truth-telling comes in telling our member that this is happening, it's unavoidable, we're not being singled-out and so it's best to be as much a part of controlling what happens to you than not.

Emily: So then what are you looking for from the industry? With this new presence, how're you going to say things now, where are you going to address them and what would you like them to reach out and help do?

Carla: Within the last week or two, several times and several addresses along the way over three years, I've been talking since the beginning about a CEO forum. And we came together about a week or so ago with a group of thought leaders and put our vision hats on and we came up with the prototype for the forum and the kinds of things we want to be talking about in the realm of strategy, relationships, technology and customer and culture. And looking at hosting it in a very non-traditional way such as a Google canvas, see, I saw your reaction when I said that so what I'm looking for in the industry is to engage with us as we begin these conversations, to be willing to be open to listen and to think that as we plot our way forward there might be new ways in doing things, things to learn. Sometimes nine-tenths of it is knowing that you're doing nine-tenths of it well. And the one-tenth of it that maybe you're not, there's something NAMA can do to help figure it out.