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2012 Power 50: No.19 Al Plamann

Al Plamann enjoys his job as chief executive of Unified Grocers, the Los Angeles-based member-owned cooperative.

Although he gave up the title of president to Bob Ling in mid-2011, Plamann said that change wasn’t meant as a signal that he’s contemplating retirement. “I’m having such a good time, and I don’t see anything else I would enjoy doing as much, so there’s no reason for me to plan to give up doing something I enjoy so much,” he told SN.

He made the change, he explained, “because it has grown more and more difficult for me to keep in direct touch with the members,” who now encompass retailers along the entire West Coast, as well as parts of the Southwest east to El Paso, Texas, plus the Pacific Rim.”

As CEO only, he’s been concentrating more on strategic planning, he said — including the following projects:

  • Expanding Unified’s wholesale business in Mexico by selling controlled-label lines directly to Mexican retailers and also finding new outlets for its specialty product lines in Mexico.
  • Expanding the company’s domestic distribution by growing its customer base in Hawaii and Alaska, as well as finding new customers for selected categories in New Mexico and west Texas.
  • Going after West Coast retailers served by two rival wholesalers — Supervalu and C&S Wholesale Grocers.

In addition, Unified is seeking partnerships with other member-owned cooperatives to reduce administrative costs, and exploring potential digital opportunities for its members.

“Al is a very good strategic planner — and a big cheerleader — for the independent sector,” said one Unified board member. “He manages people very well, and he’s always looking for ways to make sure the members get the best-quality merchandise at the best price possible.

“He’s also very focused on fresh and working hard to drive meat and produce sales to make sure we are able to compete with companies like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.”

Unified ended 2011 with sales of $3.9 billion, down 1.9% from the prior year.

Plamann said he’s counting on the flexibility of Unified’s members to help guide the wholesaler through the economic downturn.

“Independent retailers throughout the Western U.S. performed well … because they were able to respond more quickly to changing consumer preferences than were the chains,” he said earlier this year.

“Agility and adaptability are key components to success in this business environment.”

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