Catching up with the Consumer Brands Association’s new CEO

US Chamber of Commerce vet David Chavern aims to boost the CPG industry’s storytelling
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· 4 min read

The CPG industry is, uh, pretty big. It accounts for 20.4 million jobs in the US (did you know the cheese manufacturing industry alone accounts for 50,000 jobs?), plus $1.1 trillion in salaries, wages, and benefits, and contributes $2 trillion to the national GDP.

Even more staggering: Consumers use an estimated 42 CPG products every day. If you don’t believe it, try counting. We (Erin here, hi!) have already used at least 18 before noon.

All those stats are according to the Consumer Brands Association (CBA), a trade association uniting nearly 70 CPG companies across categories like food and beverage and personal care from The Coca-Cola Company, Kellogg Company, and General Mills to The Honest Company, The Clorox Company, and The Procter & Gamble Company.

The group has new leadership and a refreshed focus this year. David Chavern joined the CBA as president and CEO in January after leading the News/Media Alliance for seven years. However, he’s no stranger to manufacturing, holding executive positions at the US Chamber of Commerce for nine years, including EVP and COO of the US Chamber Manufacturing Initiative for over seven years. Due to his experience, the role was a “natural fit,” Chavern told Retail Brew.

“The companies I represent provide products that people consume, not only every day, but like every hour of every day,” he said. “There’s that sense of just real impact on the American consumer that I found intriguing, and wanting to represent companies that have that kind of impact and consequence…It’s an industry that really matters. And I like to do things that matter.”

History lesson: The CBA dates back over 100 years, beginning as the American Specialty Manufacturers Association in 1908, with 60 manufacturers convening in New York City to discuss how to move the industry forward. Some notable achievements and milestones:

  • The group was tapped by Woodrow Wilson in 1917 to feed troops and Allies during the war.
  • Rose M. Knox, who took over leadership of Knox Gelatin when her husband died in 1908, joined the association’s board in 1924, becoming “one of the first women to head a large US company,” per the CBA.
  • The group pushed for the passage of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act—still in effect today—that gave the FDA its power in 1938.
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The association was also around for lots of CPG innovations, like the introduction of laundry detergent and modern toothpaste, as well as the barcode, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year.

The group changed its name to Grocery Manufacturers of America in 1942, but merged with the Food Products Association in 2007 to become the Grocery Manufacturers Association. Finally, it became the Consumer Brands Association in 2020, a year when consumers became more acutely aware of the industry itself, Chavern noted.

“This is an industry that is so entwined with people’s daily lives, that sometimes it didn’t get noticed, unless there’s a problem,” he said. “Over Covid, where we had the supply chain challenges, all of a sudden if something wasn’t available in a store…that immediate reaction of ‘This is important to my life, and I can’t get it.’ And it sort of highlighted how integrated the products are to Americans.”

On brand: Chavern said one of his main goals in his new role will be growing storytelling around the CPG industry.

“If you talk to members of the public or you talk to members of Congress, I think there’s very little conception of the scale and scope of the industry,” he said. “And one of my primary goals is going to be telling a more cohesive, compelling story about just how big and impactful and meaningful the consumer products industry is to the United States.”

But there are still plenty of issues, new and long-term, that are top of mind for the industry. Chavern said he’s been spending the last three months catching up with CEOs from across member companies, and attending conferences like the Consumer Analyst Group of New York (CAGNY). “I’ve been listening a lot, and trying to really incorporate what people are excited about and what they’re worried about.”

Next time: We’ll look at what Chavern says are the top issues on the CPG industry’s mind.

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.