Matt Echols has joined United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI) as chief corporate affairs officer, a newly created position.
Plans call for Echols — who has spent more than 23 years at The Coca-Cola Co. in various corporate communications, public affairs and government relations roles — to start in the new post on March 1, Providence, R.I.-based UNFI said. As part of the c-suite team, he will report to UNFI CEO Sandy Douglas.
UNFI noted that Echols’ appointment will usher in a new organizational structure, in which the corporate communications and engagement, government affairs, and environmental and social impact departments will be combined into one team and report to him.
“In this time of industry and social change, I am excited to join the UNFI team and bring these important functions together to proactively engage with our associates, customers, communities, and shareholders” Echols said in a statement. “UNFI has a compelling growth story, with an impressive history of community impact to go with it.”
Currently, Echols (left) serves as global vice president of public affairs, communications and sustainability operations at Atlanta-based Coca-Cola, holding that role since February 2021. His nearly 24-year career with the beverage and food giant includes serving as senior vice president of public affairs, communications and sustainability for North America from 2015 to 2019 and a similar role for the Asia-Pacific region (based in Singapore) from 2019 to 2021, when he also led the company’s signature packaging initiative in the region called World Without Waste. He joined Coca-Cola in 1998 and rose to lead government affairs at all levels in the U.S. market, including the Washington D.C., office, before branching into the corporate communications, sustainability and reputation functions.
Prior to joining Coca-Cola, Echols worked on Capitol Hill for several Democratic and Republican U.S. Congress members from his home state of Georgia, including former Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R.), a longtime member of the House Agriculture Committee and later chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.
“As we continue our journey to improve the way we serve existing and future customers, we know we need stronger and fully integrated capabilities across environmental, social and governance (ESG), communications and public policy. This new role reflects our belief in the value created for UNFI’s customers, suppliers, associates and other stakeholders through these critical areas,” Douglas stated. “Matt is a seasoned senior executive with the business acumen and subject matter expertise to lead our integrated approach. He will be a valuable member of our executive leadership team.”
North America’s largest publicly traded grocery distributor, UNFI operates nearly 50 distribution centers and supplies more than 30,000 retailers in the United States and Canada, including natural product superstores, independent retailers, conventional supermarket chains, e-commerce retailers and foodservice providers.