- Mike Zechmeister will step down as chief financial officer at United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI), effective Aug. 23, the company announced in a press release. According to separate reports, he will take over as CFO of C.H. Robinson, North America's largest freight services broker, starting Sept. 3.
- John W. Howard, who joined UNFI in July as senior vice president of finance and accounting, will take over for Zechmeister until a permanent successor is named.
- Howard, who has 20 years of finance leadership experience, previously served as interim CFO at Prime Therapeutics and as vice president of corporate finance at Valspar Corporation.
Bringing on a new CFO while it's still working through the structurally complex Supervalu integration isn't ideal for UNFI. But the distributor could benefit from fresh financial leadership as it merges systems, evaluates debt payments, offloads its final retail stores and works through a lawsuit against former financial advisor Goldman Sachs.
At least one financial analyst believes UNFI could benefit from the change in the C-suite.
"By no means should he be considered the scapegoat for what structural challenges this biz faces, but the past [four years] under his watch have seen great (shareholder) value destruction and a loss of investor confidence," Christopher Mandeville, equity analyst with Jefferies, wrote in a note to clients Monday. "Therefore, as a potential reset, we welcome a new face to the CFO role."
The announcement came the same day SpartanNash announced the resignation of CEO Dave Staples. Taken together, the moves underscore the challenges distributors face in today's market, Mandeville wrote.
UNFI is trying to streamline warehouses across its legacy business and the former Supervalu's. It's also trying to sell more natural products to conventional stores, particularly the many independent retailers Supervalu served. However, those independents are under significant competitive pressure, straining their ability to spend.
UNFI, which reported better-than-expected earnings in June, anticipates higher inflation will improve its business over time. It also expects to sell off its remaining Shoppers Food & Pharmacy and Cub Foods by early next year, and has added to the size and depth of its company board in recent months. It will report fourth-quarter earnings next month.