120th RMA Convention Looks Forward

Family group dressed in casual clothes stands around central older white male who holds commemorative plaque
Carl Brothers (center) receives a well-deserved RMA Distinguished Service Award
Jun 19, 2019
WAIMEA, HI – The USA Rice Millers Association (RMA), one of the oldest agri-business organizations in the U.S., held their 120th annual convention here last week, and despite the long history of the group, the focus was definitely the future.  The convention brings together millers, end users, and businesses aligned with rice milling to discuss critical issues impacting the rice milling sector.

Ilan Weiss, principal of Kadima Food Labs, focused his remarks on “the bright future for rice,” citing many examples of how food manufacturers are turning to rice to be able to stay on trend and connect with consumers.  From marketing and packaging call outs for “plant-based,” “gluten free,” “GMO free,” and more, to nutritional data that positions rice positively against competing ingredients, Weiss said it was a great time to be in rice.

Attendees then turned west to discuss China.  

Lingtong Zhang, international trading director from Xiamen Mingsui Group, a grain and oil specialty agency, provided analysis of the massive Chinese rice market and explained what he thought were the United States’ quickest ways into the market – one of which was to start small.

“Two to five kilogram packages of high-end rice will help the U.S. break into the high-end rice market in China and build the U.S. brand over time,” Zhang said.

Eric Chan, director and founder of Asian Rice House, a marketing company, shared with attendees just how daunting it can be to connect with more than one billion Chinese consumers.

“With dozens of dialects spoken in China it means even we can’t understand each other,” he joked.  “One of the first challenges is in finding a Chinese name for your product that means something and connects with consumers.”

Chan also shared insights into the labyrinthine regulatory framework that dictates importation procedures, including a recent reorganization of government agencies overseeing the process.

Other speakers included the 82nd International Rice Festival Queen Victoria Callahan who thanked attendees for providing a livelihood to so many people in her home state of Louisiana and around the country; and adventure photographer and journalist, Tom Clynes, who shared incredible stories of ordinary people he has written about who make extraordinary differences in the world, from researchers fighting ebola outbreaks to naturalists working to preserve wild and untouched places.

Following a long-standing tradition of the RMA, the group took a few moments out to honor members who passed away in the last year.  The somber ceremony was led by Bobby Hanks, CEO of Supreme Rice Mill, and John Creed, Jr.; Frank Godchaux III, Faburn Murray, Craig Anthony Gladen, and Mark Wimpy were remembered.

For many years, the ceremony had been conducted by Carl Brothers of Riceland Foods.  Carl retired last year, handing the duties off to Hanks.  Brothers was in the audience, however, to receive the RMA Distinguished Service Award presented by Riceland CEO Danny Kennedy.  The award is the organization’s highest honor and it is not presented every year.

“So many of the past recipients are people I worked with closely over the years, it is really nice to join this club,” Brothers said to a standing ovation.

As in years past, RMA business meetings preceded the convention, with the organization’s Board of Directors charting a path forward on a variety of trade and domestic issues.

“The annual convention is one of the most important parts of the year for us,” said RMA Chairman Keith Gray.  “We are able to come together as an industry to learn, celebrate excellence, and identify the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead.  I want to thank all the attendees and presenters, and the sponsors and exhibitors who make the entire event possible.”