Mike Zechmeister, chief financial officer at United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI), is leaving the company to become CFO at transportation and logistics provider C.H. Robinson.
Providence, R.I.-based UNFI said late Monday that Zechmeister is slated to resign from his post on Aug. 23. The food distributor has appointed John Howard, senior vice president of finance and accounting, as interim CFO until it names a permanent replacement. An internal and external search is under the way, the company said.
Zechmeister (left) has served as CFO at UNFI since October 2015, when he joined the company after 25 years at General Mills Inc., where he held a range of operating finance roles across manufacturing, marketing, sales, corporate services and strategy. He was named vice president of finance for the Pillsbury division in 2005 and then vice president of finance for U.S. retail sales in 2007. He was promoted to treasurer of General Mills in 2011. Plans call for Zechmeister to start in his new role at Minneapolis-based C.H. Robinson, North America’s largest freight service broker, on Sept. 3.
"I thank Mike for his contributions to UNFI over the past four years of significant growth and change,” UNFI Chairman and CEO Steven Spinner said in a statement. “In the near term, we're fortunate to have John's experience and financial acumen available to our board, leadership team and finance organization.”
Howard (left) came to UNFI last month from pharmacy benefits manager Prime Therapeutics, where he served as interim CFO. UNFI noted that he has 20 years of experience leading financial teams. Before joining Prime, he was vice president of corporate finance at Valspar Corp., vice president of finance at Celanese and director of corporate finance at Reichhold Inc.
UNFI said Howard will work closely with the company’s finance leadership, executive team and board of directors in executing its integration and growth plan. In June, UNFI announced that it was operating as one company with a national leadership team and structure after closing its $2.9 billion acquisition of Supervalu Inc. in October 2018.
“John will help continue our efforts to align and build a world-class finance organization, focusing on financial planning data, systems and processes to drive and achieve our strategic business objectives," according to Spinner.
With the integration of Supervalu, UNFI became the nation’s largest publicly traded grocery distributor, with estimated annual sales of more than $21 billion. It serves natural product superstores — with Whole Foods Market its largest customer — as well as independent retailers, conventional supermarket chains, e-commerce retailers and foodservice providers.
“CFO [Mike] Zechmeister has announced that he's leaving the firm. By no means should he be considered the scapegoat for what structural challenges this business faces, but the past four under his watch have seen great shareholder value destruction and a loss of investor confidence. Therefore, as a potential reset, we welcome a new face to the CFO role,” Jefferies analyst Christopher Mandeville said in a research note late Monday.
“We note while Howard is new to UNFI, he has extensive finance leadership experience,” he added. “UNFI will report fourth-quarter 2019 earnings in September, in which case we look forward to hearing from Howard, what he thinks of current fundamentals and the Supervalu merger, and how he plans to manage both near-term and intermediate-term guidance and expectations.”