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UNFI_truck_highway.png UNFI
UNFI handles 275,000 SKUs and makes 5,000 deliveries a day of approximately 3 million cases — more than 1.3 billion cases delivered each year, the company said.

UNFI looks to ‘Fuel the Future’ with new growth strategy

‘Our mission is about every single one of us helping our customers to thrive and succeed,’ says CEO Stephen Spinner

During its Investor Day presentation on Thursday, wholesale distributor and retailer United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI) unveiled its new business strategy, a six-pillar blueprint for the Providence, R.I.-based company’s growth dubbed “Fuel the Future.”

According to CEO Stephen Spinner, Fuel the Future is “about building off our strong foundation and our incredible momentum and elevating the key areas of our business to deliver even more for our customers and help make them even stronger.

"We want to transform the future of food,” he said.” We don't want to just participate. We want to be a true leader of the food industry. Our mission is about every single one of us helping our customers to thrive and succeed. It's about pioneering what's next."  

The strategy is based on six pillars:

• Fulfill power in scale.

• Unlock the customer experience.

• Taste the future.

• UNFI pride.

• Retail optimized.

• Earn results.

"Under our new Fuel the Future strategy, we're pioneering new sources of growth and working to get the most out of our current programs," Spinner said.

UNFI pillars Fuel the Future.png

The company's officers and directors each explained one of the different pillars, starting with Chief Operating Officer Eric Dorne. He highlighted some statistics about UNFI's operations: UNFI is the largest grocery wholesaler in North America, based on estimated annual revenue. It ships products from 58 distribution centers, and will open a new one in Allentown, Pa., this fall. The company handles 275,000 SKUs and makes 5,000 deliveries a day of approximately 3 million cases — more than 1.3 billion cases delivered each year, Dorne said.

"So what is scale? Scale is more than simply being the biggest or operating the most facilities," he said. “It includes having distribution centers located near customers, having capacity for growth, procuring product efficiently and being flexible to shift volume between distribution centers when needed.”

UNFI is working to offer customers one ordering system, with products delivered on one truck and one invoice. The system likely will be piloted in the summer of 2022.

Helping customers be successful

UNFI president Chris Testa explained the second pillar, Unlock the Customer Experience, which means offering retailers a range of products, brands and services, and helping them take advantage of consumer and retail trends.

The company plans to increase sales by selling more to existing customers while picking up new customers from competitors, he said. Many customers are attracted to UNFI because of its broad and expanding private label offerings, Testa said.

"Today, we're midstream on many new customer conversations and our sales pipeline has never been stronger," he said. Contracts with Key Food and Whole Foods Market support UNFI's revenue projections.

Details of the Taste the Future pillar came from Chief Marketing Officer Amanda Helming, who said, "This pillar at its core is about building upon UNFI's culture of innovation. It's about having a forward-looking mindset and courageously embracing what's next."

The company already sees growth in private label, existing services, e-commerce and fresh, but it will continue to innovate new business models, products and partnerships, she said.

"We've invested in talent, technology and insight to understand the consumer of tomorrow and how to better meet their needs," Helming said. The goal is to grow the company's bottom line faster than it grows the top line, she added.

Private label products carry high profit margins and have become increasingly popular. One-third of consumers say that most of their grocery shopping includes private brands, according to UNFI.

"Private brands have evolved from a pure profit play to a destination driver," Helming said. UNFI's line of private label products has generated more than $1 billion in wholesale sales — and the company plans to double those sales.

Those sales make UNFI a top-50 food and beverage sales company, she said, citing Nielsen results.

Internal improvements benefit employees, stockholders

The fourth pillar, UNFI Pride, looks at the company's mission and values; diversity and inclusion programs; safety; and environmental, social, governance.

Retail Optimized, the fifth pillar, involves improving customers' experiences at its retail outlets Cub Food and Shoppers. During the Investors Day session on Thursday, UNFI reiterated its support for its retail brands, with Spinner saying the company has reversed its initial plan to divest those holdings at this time. In addition, UNFI has formed a partnership with the University of Southern California to provide retail managers an 18-month leadership training program.

UNFI financial expectations.png

The sixth pillar, Earn Results, was presented by Chief Financial Officer John Howard. He explained that UNFI will improve its financial results by optimizing its distribution centers, strategically using automation and technology, and simplifying associates' approach to work.

The company expects the benefits of this ValuePath program to accumulate to between $70 million and $100 million by the end of fiscal year 2023, Howard said. The savings will be used to reduce debt, invest in innovation and increase wages.

UNFI will be able to offer share buyback programs or dividends after its debt ratio falls below 3x, which could happen in 12-18 months, Howard added.


This piece originally appeared on New Hope Network, a Supermarket News sister website.

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