AWMA & Merchants Grocery Co. Host FDA Plant Tour

Merchants Grocery Co. plant tour aims to help FDA better understand the distributor’s role in the tobacco distribution process.

A group of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulators visited AWMA member Merchants Grocery Co. in Culpeper, Va., on Wednesday, July 18, and viewed the company’s tobacco processing operation at the invitation of AWMA and Merchants. 

The purpose was to help the FDA officials charged with regulating tobacco clearly understand the distributor’s role in the tobacco distribution process.

Participating were eight officials from the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, hosted by Elvin Smythers, Merchants Grocery Co. president, and Chris Smythers, chief operating officer, and other team members. They provided a detailed briefing of the distributor’s responsibilities and practices from the time tobacco products are purchased from the manufacturer through distribution to the retail store and then led a tour of the tobacco processing area in the warehouse, where the FDA representatives viewed the tobacco picking, stamping and shipping operations.  

The FDA officials were invited to view a typical AWMA distributor’s tobacco operation by Anne Holloway, vice president of government affairs, so they would be able to see first-hand and better understand distributors’ complex responsibilities in handling tobacco products, including payment, licensing, storing, picking, stamping, loading, delivery and security.  

Chris Smythers emphasized the importance of tobacco to distributors and the convenience store industry. AWMA president and CEO Scott Ramminger pointed out that additional government requirements that increase distributors’ and retailers’ costs and must be passed on in the price of the product, which can result in additional counterfeit, black market and other illegal activity. He also urged regulators not to impose new reporting requirements that would impose added costs on distributors.

“AWMA wishes to thank Merchants Grocery Co. for hosting this important event and the FDA team for taking the time to participate. For you to do this means a lot to us. It shows a commitment to industry outreach and a willingness to learn about our business,” said Holloway. “Hopefully, this will help as you consider any actions that would affect our industry.” Also attending from AWMA were Bob Pignato, vice president of marketing, membership & industry affairs, and Bob Gatty, vice president of communications.  

The American Wholesale Marketers Association (AWMA) is the only international trade organization working on behalf of convenience distributors in the U.S. Its distributor members represent more than $85 billion in U.S. convenience product sales. Associate members include manufacturers, service providers, technology companies, brokers, retailers and others allied to the convenience retailing industry.

In addition to convenience stores, its largest customer segment, convenience distributors also service grocery stores, drug stores, tobacco shops, mass merchants, newsstands, concession stands, gift shops, fundraising groups, restaurants, institutions and much more.











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