- United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI) announced earlier this week that Matt Whitney has been promoted to the newly created role of chief strategy and innovation officer.
- Whitney will oversee the company’s professional services and e-commerce business and also implement several ongoing strategic initiatives, develop new business models and pursue opportunities for innovation.
- The appointment comes amid increasing demand for UNFI’s wide-ranging services and e-commerce capabilities from retailers.
Known mainly as a distributor, UNFI also provides around 150 professional services for retailers ranging from store design to payment processing and even bitcoin kiosks. Demand for these services — mainly among independent retailers that don’t have a wide range of in-house capabilities — has increased recently, company officials said during UNFI’s earnings call in March.
UNFI also provides e-commerce support to retailers and has added online shopping platforms for “hundreds” of clients during the pandemic, officials said. E-commerce sales at UNFI increased 97% in the company's second financial quarter.
In April, UNFI launched an e-commerce marketplace allowing retailers to order products from small producers not held in the distributor’s existing warehouse network.
UNFI will look to Whitney to lead these key areas as well as pursue innovation opportunities across the company. Whitney joined the distributor in early 2020 as senior vice president of sales strategy and business transformation, where he oversaw the company’s “Value Path” initiative to cut costs and identify new sales opportunities across the business.
Prior to joining UNFI, Whitney was corporate vice president of field transformation at Sysco, where he also served as executive vice president of the Boston division for the wholesale company.
“UNFI is focused on innovation and finding new ways to support our customers beyond a traditional distribution model," UNFI President Chris Testa said in a statement. "Our professional services and e-commerce teams are two critical growth vehicles that help make our customers stronger, more differentiated, and under Matt’s leadership these teams will help them continue to grow and flourish."
In its core distribution business, UNFI is focused on selling across both conventional and natural channels, and on rationalizing its distribution footprint. The company recently renewed its supply contract with Whole Foods, its largest customer, through fall 2027.
More executive-level changes are imminent at the distributor, with CEO Steven Spinner announcing his retirement last fall. The company said at the time it expected to name a successor early this year, and that Spinner would depart on or before the completion of his contract on July 31, but in March Spinner said he had extended his contract as UNFI continues its search for his successor.