Christine Cochran, GFF
Christine Cochran, executive director of the G.F.F.

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. — While serious concerns were expressed about the cost of a potential checkoff program and the role the government may play in its oversight, efforts to launch a grain-based foods checkoff program continued to advance at an April 17 meeting of a steering committee established by the Grain Foods Foundation.

Christine Cochran, executive director of the G.F.F., said the group will reconvene in about a month to consider a more refined checkoff proposal. The steering committee meeting was held on the final day of the American Bakers Association annual meeting at The Phoenician in Scottsdale.

While mindful the long-term nature of the investment a checkoff program would represent for grain-based foods, members of the committee also are anxious over challenges facing the industry right now.

“Costs of goods are going up, unrelated to checkoff,” Ms. Cochran said. “Transportation, labor, ingredients. So the cost of a checkoff program definitely was a concern.”

The A.B.A. has identified fighting excessive government regulation as its top policy priority, and a number of steering committee members expressed wariness about the oversight role the U.S. Department of Agriculture would play in a checkoff program.

Perspective on this question was offered during the meeting by Erin Sharp, group vice-president, manufacturing, The Kroger Co., Cincinnati. The incoming chairman of the A.B.A., Ms. Sharp has served on the board of the Milk Processor Education Program (MilkPEP), a checkoff program that works to promote milk’s nutritional benefits and guard its reputation against anti-milk messages.

“The bulk of the conversation at the steering committee meeting was about governance,” Ms. Cochran said. “It was about the role of government and worries of onerous government involvement. Erin offered perspective that many committee members found persuasive — describing a positive experience at MilkPEP in which government involvement in decision making is minimal with the role centered on auditing, making sure payments are being made, etc. The government does not have an outsized role in board decisions at all.”

Major decisions remain to be made about the specific details of a program, and reaching agreement on these parameters will be a challenge, Ms. Cochran said. These issues include the size of the budget, which products will be included, the process by which a vote will be taken to launch a program, the process by which a program could be terminated in the future and the possibility of a one- to three-year trial period for a program prior to a vote being taken.

“The group understands the ‘why?’ for a checkoff,” Ms. Cochran said. “Now it is about the how? and the what?”

Representatives of the milling industry present at the meeting expressed commitment to following the lead of the bakers in a smaller, supporting role, Ms. Cochran said.

“Their share will be less than the bakers share of the checkoff budget, though that share has yet to be finalized,” Ms. Cochran said. “Their representation will be commensurate with their share of funding. They expressed support for a checkoff program and baking’s leadership in such a program.”

An exploration of a checkoff program was formally initiated in November, and the steering committee first convened in January with hopes that by spring, recommendations could be finalized for funding levels, participation by stakeholder groups and specific plans for the checkoff application.

Members of the checkoff committee include, Dan Dye, Ardent Mills; Mark Kolkhorst, ADM Milling; Tracie Sheehan, Aryzta; Bohn Popp, Aunt Millie’s Bakeries; Vince Melchiorre, Bimbo Bakeries USA; Jim Morris, B.B.U.;  Pete Frederick, Grain Craft; James Meyer, Italgrani USA; Brian Dwyer, The Kroger Co.; D. Ford Mennel, The Mennel Milling Co.; Jeff Thomas, Miller Milling Co.; Vance Taylor, North Dakota Mill & Elevator; and Cordia Harrington, The Bakery Cos.

Also present at the April 17 meeting were Robb MacKie, American Bakers Association; Ms. Cochran, Erin Ball, and Kelly Knowles, all from G.F.F.; Ms. Sharp; James McCarthy, North American Millers’ Association; G. Michael Gude, Sosland Publishing Company; and legal counsel.

“Deliberations at the meeting became very specific,” Ms. Cochran said of the April 17 meeting. “That’s an important step. Millers and bakers remain very engaged, and we look forward to meeting again next month where we will be looking over a more detailed concept.”