"We Need You to Be Successful"
UNFI has the financial strength and buying power to serve all channels of this industry and to compete with the conventional wholesalers who will try and get into this business. Because the core natural customers are the majority of our business, we will continue to focus on our core natural customer. Because we are focused on selling natural and organic foods, we will fight to maintain integrity in our organic standards, eliminating GMOs from our food supply, and pushing for ways of doing business that protect the environment. Customer diversity is a key to UNFI's survival, and having strong retail co-ops network is very important to us. We need you to be successful. We have been supportive of you forming your regional Cooperative Grocers Associations and have negotiated better pricing with these groups, even when you were not able to offer us many things to lower our costs....
Marilyn Scholl (far right) moderated a panel that responded to Michael Funk's presentation. From left to right, Corinne Shindelar of Twin Cities Natural Food Co-ops and CGA Midwest, Ruffin Slater of Weaver Street Market, Michelle Schry of Peoples Food Co-op (La Crosse), and Terry Appleby of Hanover Co-op.
You have to give up your individual store preferences and combine to create a national force: one that has buying power; one that can attract capital; one that can attract top quality management. You've made some important steps, but the real work for you is still ahead. There will be many compromises you will need to make, and it won't be easy. The motivation for individual co-ops to give up something for the best interest of the whole is difficult for many successful stores who don't feel any real threats to their business. There are, I'm sure, many of you who will continue to grow and be successful regardless of how the entire national group performs. However, you are the ones that need to lead this effort....
My wish would be that you would be able to have a chain of medium size stores, that are able to serve the smaller communities around the country as well as operate in the large metro areas. A chain of stores under one banner and one management team, which represents the history of what got us here, promoting the best of what this industry represents in health and sustainability. A powerful buying unit, taking advantage of national purchasing power while maintaining regional marketing strategies. A chain that spreads its expertise and best practices to ensure a consistently well run store in every community across the country. A chain that is strong enough financially to expand when needed and attract future capital as required. It is also my wish and hope that UNFI can help you achieve whatever is needed to insure your survival and prosperity.
-Michael Funk, CEO of United Natural Foods Inc.