Update on the Harmful, For-Profit, Anti-SFA Effort
This page contains updates about a misguided campaign by a former SFA member to convert the Association into a for-profit company for personal gain. This would harm the SFA and our members.
Please note the SFA is not affiliated with an entity called “SFA Members First” that is directing members to @okapipartners.
- You may have received communications about a destructive for-profit, anti-SFA effort led by Daniel Dowe, Artisanal Cheese, and a so-called “Members First” group, bent on dissolving the SFA and turning the organization into a private, for-profit entity, with the ability to sell off the SFA’s assets at any time at their discretion.
- The lasting impact of this effort would be far-reaching and turn the organization from one focused on the needs of members to one focused on the enrichment of outside interests.
- We understand that the aggressive tactics and misinformation that the effort has spread seek to have you act in haste or without having all of the information.
- If you provided your email to the “Members First” group, they regard it as you providing them with your proxy in support of their campaign.
- You can revoke any proxy you may have provided by sending an email to: BoardSecretary@specialtyfood.com and write “I revoke the proxy given to Daniel Dowe/Artisanal Cheese."
- Below are details regarding the absurd assertions being made by this harmful, for-profit, anti-SFA effort
Click the crosses on the right hand side, to expand the panels that follow, for further information.
Who is Dan Dowe?
He and his company are former SFA members. Mr. Dowe served on the SFA Board for a time.
There were a number of actions taken by Mr. Dowe and his company, Artisanal Cheese, that the Board found to be detrimental to the interests of the SFA and grounds for expulsion from membership. This includes misleading members about the SFA, harming the SFA’s resources, and improperly using and disclosing information he obtained while on the Board.?
This also included actions taken during Mr. Dowe’s time as Chairman of the Board, a position he was removed from in mid-2019, a year before his term expired, after an exhaustive review of his conduct by an outside legal firm. When he was removed from the Board and when his company was expelled from the membership, Mr. Dowe was given due process, including interviews and hearings. He refused, however, to attend the meeting when the Board considered expulsion of his company from SFA membership.
After he was removed from the SFA Board, Mr. Dowe formed another company and is using it for a campaign that seeks to dissolve the SFA and give him and his business partners the SFA’s assets to run for their profit.
The SFA Board has rejected this proposal, recognizing that the SFA’s nearly 70 years of non-profit status provides our members with a better outcome that is driven by serving and promoting our members, and not driven by profit. We have seen the significantly higher costs of other tradeshows for our members, and we do not believe the SFA should follow suit.?
Mr. Dowe’s communications to members contain false and misleading statements about the SFA’s operations and finances, and he promises that members would be better served if he and his business partners ran it for profit. Having seen how he conducted himself on the Board and with staff, and how he and his company have interacted with SFA members, we disagree.
The Truth About a Lawsuit
Mr. Dowe is suing the SFA in New York court, trying yet another way to force us to carry out his plan. We are confident we are in the right, and that the court will agree with us. His lawsuit focuses on his demand that the SFA hold a “special meeting” to consider his campaign’s plan. But that plan has already been rejected. In any event, New York law and the SFA By-laws require 10% of members to provide a written request for a special meeting, and now that we proudly serve nearly 4,400 members, much less than 10% have said they want a special meeting.
Members already discussed his campaign at our SFA Members Meeting when we were together in San Francisco at the Winter Fancy Food Show. During a Q&A session, members and the Board Co-Chairs openly discussed Mr. Dowe’s campaign. No member expressed support. And several members denounced it. The Board Co-Chairs confirmed that the Board’s view is that it is not in the SFA’s or the members’ best interest.?
Members also provide feedback directly to the SFA at our service desk, online, and at the annual member meeting in June. Throughout the process with Mr. Dowe, the SFA has not heard from a single other member that they would rather the Fancy Food Shows be operated for profit.
The Truth About the “Proxy” Calls and Emails You May be Receiving
Mr. Dowe has emailed a portion of the SFA membership upon several occasions. In every instance, we have found wildly inaccurate and misleading statements in his messages.
Often, he is seeking SFA members’ proxies in support of his plan. We encourage members to say “no thank you,” not to provide your email address (which he counts as being in support), and unsubscribing from their contact list.
We have heard from members that they are being bombarded with calls and emails, asking them to give Mr. Dowe a “proxy” to demand that the SFA dissolve and turn over its assets. This campaign includes many false and misleading statements.
More than 25% of those SFA members that Mr. Dowe says gave him a proxy have since revoked it, once they learned the truth about what he is doing. The best way to end Mr. Dowe’s campaign is to send him a message that you do not support him..
You can revoke your proxy by sending an email to: BoardSecretary@specialtyfood.com and write “I revoke the proxy given to Daniel Dowe/Artisanal Cheese." You also can show that you do not support his efforts by unsubscribing from his messages and telling him you are not interested.
The Truth About Our Commitment To Members
- This Board cares about what you have to say. We want to hear from you. Please feel free to email us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. We regularly provide open opportunities for members to voice their opinions and concerns at speak ups and open member meetings at both shows. We take your feedback and questions seriously.
- We represent everyone equally and promote all our members. The SFA represents all our members equally, regardless of business size. The Association’s mission is to promote our members, and we do so on a daily basis. Being a nonprofit association means promoting members equally, which is critical to serving the many successful small businesses we are proud to work with.
- We have invested in Member Engagement & Member Development Teams. Please see the next section for updates.
- Becoming a for-profit entity would negate our mission and could significantly increase costs for members. Changing the organization’s tax status to a for-profit organization could cost members more, as everything would be taxed, and the goal would be to seek a profit from you.
- Our existing structure allows for lower booth fees. In part because of our tax-exempt and non-profit status (which the outside campaign is seeking to end), we are able to provide services to you at a lower cost that is far less than competitors offer.For example, another comparable tradeshow in the industry charges more than twice as much.The SFA has held prices steady for as long as possible, only increasing fees by a total of 3% from 2009-2019. This summer the SFA will increase booth prices $2.00/square foot – bringing fees to a reasonable $37.00/square foot, which is still less than half of competitors.
- There is no increase to membership fees for Makers, Retailers, Distributors, and Alliance Members. Brokers are now general members and will pay as such.
- We are engaging food influencers. We have established and invested in relationships with two prominent academic institutions (Rutgers & Cornell) to enhance member benefits related to the promotion of your products through our sofi Awards and to provide buyers a venue to further develop their supply-chain management skills via our Buyer Certification program.
- We provide year-round opportunities to access buyers. We offer buyers a year-round resource through our Product Marketplace.
The Truth About The New Membership Team & Member Services
- We have increased our investment in Membership Service, adding five full-time specialists to our Member Engagement & Member Development Teams. Two staff members were not sufficient to give you the additional support members have requested.
- Each member will have a designated Member Service Specialist to work with on an on-going basis. This will help ensure continuity of support and foster a strong partnership between the Member Engagement & Member Development Teams and the member community.
- As of February 3, we have a staffed Member Help Desk that you can call Monday through Friday, 8:30am to 5:00pm Eastern Standard Time. When you call, you will reach someone trained to provide you with the support you need or the ability to connect you promptly with the appropriate subject matter expert within the SFA. You can reach the Help Desk at 646-878-0301.
The Truth About SFA Financials
The SFA continues to operate with a strong financial profile while keeping fees and dues extremely low compared with competing organizations. We have no debt.
The harmful for-profit anti-SFA effort has falsely reported $18M of liabilities. This effort is also misleading members regarding its willingness to assume such a financial liability in exchange for its ownership of the SFA. This is simply untrue.
The SFA built up a healthy reserve of $64 million over decades to ensure the Association’s longevity. This includes $32 million in restricted operating reserves to align with corporate best practices and protect the SFA should there ever be an economic downturn that might affect the Shows.
The cancelation of the 2020 Summer Show due to the COVID-19 pandemic is still being evaluated, but we anticipate our insurance coverage and careful use of some reserves will keep us in healthy financial condition.
Our financial “health” is outlined for the membership at our annual Member Meeting, normally held at the Summer Fancy Food Show. That meeting will be held virtually this year.
The Truth About the 2018 SFA 990 IRS form
Mr. Dowe sent a message to some SFA members in early June focusing on the SFA’s 2018 990 form filed with the IRS. Several inaccuracies were touted in his message (Mr. Dowe’s comments in blue):?
"Two SFA employees were paid over $1,000,000 in 2018"?
- The SFA brought to a close certain legacy executive contracts that were created 15-20 years ago. Mr. Dowe was on the board when the decision to close these contracts was made, and he voted to approve the payments.
"Directors and key employees were compensated nearly $10 million when the SFA generates $27 million in revenue in 2018"
- The amount refers to total compensation of ALL employees and includes the one-time payments referenced above.?
"Net assets of the association decreased by $3.5 million"
- This is inaccurate. The results of SFA programs resulted in a $1 Million increase in net assets, and the 990 explains a decrease of Net Unrealized losses on the investment portfolio due to market fluctuations.?
"Don’t let 15 directors who love their perks and fun-filled trips to New York City so much they will tell you anything…"
- Mr. Dowe himself, when serving as Chair, insisted on staging trips with elaborate events to Italy and Philadelphia, totally of his own design and beyond the usual cost of Board Meetings. The Board will not countenance such waste again, and members shouldn’t either.
One more point that Mr. Dowe fails to mention… as chair, he commenced negotiations to move the SFA office from a modest location in NYC to a much grander and more expensive office and entertainment complex in the World Financial Center area. This change would have increased the overhead costs of the SFA by nearly 1.5x and was strongly endorsed by Mr. Dowe. This Board rightly balked at Mr. Dowe’s initiative and agenda on several fronts because they would not have served the members.
The Truth About Our Re-Branding Strategy
- Following an intensive three-year process, our new branding could be seen throughout the WFFS experience and received tremendous positive response from fellow members.
- The strategic goals of the rebrand include:
- Building the SFA as the authority for the industry;
- Bringing valuable recognition to members;
- Ensuring that the SFA stays relevant for the industry by continuing to attract quality buyers; and
- Attracting millennials and other younger generations, which we feel is key to staying on top of innovation since they are the future of the industry.
- The SFA invested $621,000 over three-years on this comprehensive rebranding that included strategic alignment and planning, design, and implementation of the new branding. You can find the branding across all media platforms, including the SFA website, Specialty Food Magazine, social media channels, and the SFA’s emails. You could also see it in our trade dress at the Winter Show, including across banners and signage across the show and the SFA Member Hub service booth. ?
- It is noteworthy that this rebranding cost less than half of the prior rebrand undertaken from NASFT to the Specialty Food Association. ?
- We also want to note that the most recent rebranding expenditures were approved by the Board during the period when the leader of the for-profit anti-SFA effort, Mr. Dowe, served on the Board, including during his brief tenure as Chairman. ??
The Truth About The Success Of Our Shows
The Fancy Food Shows have been doing very well – including our 2020 Winter Show in January.
We want to thank all the members who joined us in San Francisco for our most successful and largest Winter Fancy Food Show, featuring 1,447 Member Exhibitors – more than ever before.?
Also of note, the attendee satisfaction score from the 2019 Summer Show was more than 80%. Since becoming a qualified business to business show, our buyer participation across the entire industry increased more than 10% and buyer satisfaction has been more than 80%.
The cancellation of the 2020 Summer Fancy Food Show, due to circumstances completely out of our control, was very difficult for all involved. We are looking at various ways to continue to connect our maker members with buyers and distributors through virtual means this year. We hope that 2021 offers us renewed opportunities to serve the membership and the industry through the Fancy Food Shows.
The Truth About Board Elections
The SFA Governance Committee uses a rigorous process to develop the slate for the next board, including:
- Reviewing nomination forms from scores of SFA members
- Interviewing candidates to ascertain their skills and interests
- Presenting a slate that represents all classifications of members (Maker, Buyer, Distributor, Broker, Affiliate), new and established companies, and is a reflection of our diverse membership
The current SFA board election ballot asks members to indicate whether they are for or against the SFA continuing to support and promote members as a not-for-profit to keep dues and fees low and focus on members’ businesses.
Like many non-profit organizations, our board officers serve one-year terms (as the National Restaurant Association board does), and our officers are selected from the directors, so they serve in officer roles as part of their years of service on the Board.?
The SFA Board meets at least five times a year, similar to most associations and corporations, and recently has met many more times.?
Invitation to Join and Serve the SFA
- We welcome more members to work with us throughout the year. Our Industry Working Groups (IWG) are a great way to engage, and the nominating process will begin in earnest in March. The four IWGs are: Legislative & Regulatory; Preparedness/Education; Events; and Recognition.
- IWGs play a critical role in helping the Board and staff identify key opportunities and ways to support members. If you are interested in joining one, please email email@example.com.
We are grateful to have such a strong and diverse membership. It is our honor to represent you on the Board. As always, please reach out to us with any questions or thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.?