As it navigates a period of tumultuous transformation, wholesale distributor United Natural Foods Inc. has announced a series of senior executive moves, including the promotions of Eric Dorne to chief operating officer and John Howard to chief financial officer.
Dorne succeeds Sean Griffin effective Feb. 7. Howard, who has been interim CFO since last August, will take on that role on a permanent basis Feb. 9. Griffin will retire effective July 31.
UNFI also announced it has extended the employment agreement for CEO Steven Spinner through July 31, 2021, and Chris Testa, president and chief marketing officer, will take on additional responsibilities leading UNFI’s professional services, supplier services, customer care and the company’s Canadian division.
The company is also seeking a new chief supply chain officer as current officeholder Paul Green transitions to a new role as president of fresh.
Providence, R.I.-based UNFI is racing to reinvent itself as a scaled and diversified national food distributor, but the road has been rocky. It has encountered union opposition to moves to consolidate its supply chain and has had little success selling retail holdings that it acquired in 2018 along with its conventional wholesale rival Supervalu. In addition, three of its significant distribution customers—Fairway Markets, Lucky’s Markets and Earth Fare—have declared bankruptcy in recent weeks, leaving the company owed a combined $9.6 million. In all three bankruptcies, UNFI is the largest unsecured creditor.
“Our vision for industry transformation is taking hold as we continue to integrate and provide our customers with scale, services and differentiated distribution alternatives. Development of our talent and succession planning are part of my and the UNFI board’s responsibilities, and we are confident the leadership changes being announced will serve as an enabler toward long-term success,” Spinner said in a statement.
Griffin, a 10-year veteran of the company, reassumed the COO role with UNFI following the integration of Supervalu last April. He will continue to focus on continuing the company’s business transformation as well as supporting other key business initiatives and will remain with the company as an adviser until November.
“I truly appreciate Sean’s leadership and dedication during his 10 years at UNFI, and particularly over the past 18 months as we have successfully integrated Supervalu at a faster pace than originally anticipated,” Spinner said. “Sean agreed to extend his time with UNFI following the acquisition of Supervalu, and we charted our path forward with his guidance. Sean is a tremendous leader and great friend, and we all wish him all the best in his retirement.”
Dorne joined UNFI nine years ago after having spent extensive time in the retail sector, including more than 20 years at A&P. As COO, Dorne will continue to oversee the company's integration office and UNFI’s information technology team, as well as oversee UNFI’s supply chain, which includes distribution center operations, procurement and transportation.
Howard joined UNFI in July 2019 and has been interim CFO since August 2019, succeeding Michael Zechmeister. Howard has more than 20 years of experience leading finance teams, including senior finance positions with the Valspar Corp. prior to its merger with Sherwin-Williams in 2018.
Testa joined UNFI in 2009 as president of the company’s Blue Marble Brands division, having more than 15 years of experience in consumer brand marketing. Testa was appointed UNFI’s Atlantic Region president when the company transitioned to a regional structure in 2016. As president and chief marketing officer, Testa has overseen the U.S. and International sales organization. He is also responsible for UNFI’s consumer brands division and corporate branding team.
“I am pleased to recognize the contributions of John, Eric and Chris with these new appointments and expanded responsibilities. John quickly earned the respect of our finance and leadership teams while serving as our interim CFO, and he has a great vision for directional changes he is ready to implement as we continue to strengthen our finance organization,” Spinner said. “Eric has consistently delivered strong results in his nine years as part of the UNFI team, and I have great confidence that he will continue to do so in his new role as COO. Lastly, since joining UNFI a decade ago, Chris has established a track record of driving sustainable growth and I look for more of this in the future. I am excited to continue working with each of them in their new roles as we continue to position UNFI as the distributor of choice across the United States and Canada.”
The company also announced additional leadership news:
- Paul Green, currently UNFI’s chief supply chain officer, will take on a new role as president of fresh, where he will lead meat and produce merchandising teams and will report directly to Spinner. Green will continue as chief supply chain officer until a successor is named.
- Mike Stigers, currently CEO of Cub Foods and EVP, fresh, will transition UNFI’s fresh teams to Green, once Green has completed his move to his new role. Stigers will focus on leading Cub and continuing the sale process for the Minnesota-based grocery retailer and will also report directly to Spinner.
- UNFI said searches were underway for a new chief information officer and chief supply chain officer, both of whom will report to Dorne.
- The company is also creating a new SVP of brands role to further build its private brands offerings and oversee the company’s corporate branding initiatives. This position will report to Testa.