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UNFI Eyes Acquisitions in Canada

MIAMI — United Natural Foods Inc. believes it can double the size of its business in Canada through organic growth and additional acquisitions, Mark Shamber, chief financial officer for the Providence, R.I.-based distributor, told attendees at an investment conference here this week.

Sales in Canada accounted for approximately $250 million of UNFI’s $5.24 billion in sales during fiscal 2012. With a market size about a 10th of that of the U.S., “to be roughly the same size we are in Canada as we are in the U.S., we should be in a position to double the Canadian business,” Shamber said in remarks at the ICR XChange Conference.

UNFI entered Canada with the acquisition of SunOpta in 2010 and more recently acquired specialty distributors B.K. Sethi Distribution and Disley Food Services, folding both into its existing business without a lot of expense. Shamber termed Canada “even more fragmented” than the U.S.

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Shamber said that expanding its range of product lines in the U.S. through acquisition — particularly the 2007 merger with Millbrook Distribution Services, which added an extensive specialty-products offering — helped to attract more new customers, particularly traditional supermarkets like Safeway, which is now UNFI’s second-largest customer.

“A lot of conventional supermarket operators are focused on having a single source of natural/organic and specialty items,” Shamber explained, “so the acquisition of Millbrook put us in a much more competitive position to be able to win that business. We could leverage our strength on the natural/organic side along with having a selection of 30,000 to 40,000 SKUs of specialty. That led customers such as Safeway, Giant Eagle, Giant-Landover and Wakerfern/ShopRite to switch their business to us.”

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