- United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI) announced on Wednesday that it has named former Staples CEO J. Alexander (Sandy) Miller Douglas, Jr. as its next CEO, replacing current chief Steven Spinner on Aug. 9.
- Douglas was CEO of office supply company Staples from 2018 until this June when he stepped down from the role. Before that, he spent 30 years at The Coca-Cola Company, serving most recently as president of the company’s North America division.
- Douglas’ appointment follows a lengthy search that was stymied by the pandemic and comes on the heels of UNFI’s newly outlined corporate strategy.
To lead the company through its next growth phase, UNFI has selected an executive with deep experience in the CPG business who has also led a major company through a transitional period.
Given UNFI’s rapid pace of change since acquiring fellow distributor SuperValu in 2018, some felt an internal pick who was intimately familiar with the business would be the best choice for the CEO role. UNFI considered both internal and external candidates, but ultimately selected an outsider with top-level management experience.
Douglas took the reins at Staples in 2018 after the struggling company went private through an acquisition by Sycamore Partners. He led Staples through a tough pandemic period for office-supply companies and oversaw a rebranding effort aimed at remote workers, as well as digital moves like the launch of same-day delivery.
As president of Coca-Cola North America, Douglas led all aspects of consumer and business-to-business operations for a division that brought in $10 billion in revenue. In his three decades at the company, he also worked as global chief customer officer in addition to other roles across sales and marketing.
“He has a demonstrated track record leading large-scale transformation and growth through strategic, customer-focused action,” Denise Clark, chair of the board’s nominating and governance committee and CEO of the succession planning committee, said in a statement.
Current UNFI CEO Steven Spinner, who has been at the helm since 2008 and led the company through its transformational — but very difficult — acquisition of SuperValu, will retire from the company and its board when Douglas takes over. Spinner will remain in an advisory role for up to a year after that point.
Spinner announced his retirement last September and extended his contract with UNFI after the company failed to name a successor by its initial timeline. Last month, Spinner led the company’s investor-day presentation outlining its updated corporate strategy. That strategy calls for achieving $30 billion in sales and $900 million in adjusted earnings by 2024 through a combination of cost-cutting measures and building out billions of dollars in business among new and existing customers. It also includes managing a pandemic-boosted retail division it previously wanted to sell.
During that investor presentation, Spinner said the company planned to hire a replacement for him who would “embrace the culture of the strategy that we've worked so hard to create.” That indicates Douglas is on board with UNFI’s strategy, though the plan is still in its early days.
UNFI also announced on Wednesday adjustments to its board of directors. The board has elected Jack Stahl to serve as its independent chair, effective Aug. 9. He joined UNFI’s board in 2019 and is currently lead director of pharmaceutical firm Catalent.
Peter Roy will step down as UNFI’s lead director and continue to serve on the board, while Daphne Dufresne, who has been on the company board since 2016, will become the new compensation committee chair — a position Stahl had previously held since last September.
A previous version of this story misstated the adjusted earnings UNFI hopes to achieve by 2024. It is $900 million.