The quality of fresh food, especially produce, plays a big role in consumer decision-making on where to shop for groceries. Retailers that consistently serve up a strong offering of fruit and vegetables at a high level of freshness will consistently draw customers and earn their loyalty.
United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI) knows this as well as anyone in the industry and, to that end, launched initiatives in which it leveraged new technology to ensure produce reaches retailer partners faster and fresher.
A combination of new solutions and processes are shortening certain delivery times by more than a day and capitalizing on the full potential of UNFI’s data points to deliver fresher produce to stores. One key tech solution is Share-ify, a cloud-based, tablet-enabled quality control program that allows UNFI to synthesize tens of thousands of data points to remove variability and help growers and suppliers provide the freshest produce possible. The technology was slated to be in use at all of UNFI’s produce distribution centers as of last month.
The Providence, R.I.-based wholesaler also has consolidated purchasing and shifted to procuring many items directly from key suppliers.
The result of these efforts: improved inventory turnover, lower inventory shrink and an average one-day savings from the supply chain over the past year — as well as produce sales growth outpacing the industry average.
“As you can imagine, there’s not one, single bullet on how to make quality better. So the reality is that we put in multiple tools,” Dorn Wenninger, senior vice president of produce at UNFI, told Supermarket News in a podcast discussion.
Wenninger has served in that role at UNFI since February 2021, when he joined the company from Walmart Mexico, where he was VP of perishables. Before that, he served for four years as VP of produce and floral at Walmart U.S. and, earlier, spent two years there as VP of global food sourcing.
“The retail consumer, what she really cares about, is the quality and freshness and how long it lasts at home. And what really upsets her is variability,” Wenninger said. “So we started there and said, ‘What tools do we have in our arsenal to make that better for the customer?’ The overall ranking objective was to remove days in the supply chain and give those days of freshness back to the store and back to the customer.”