SMALL STATE, BIG IMPACT


Demand for natural food products no surprise to UNFI

Talk about being ahead of the curve. While today’s consumer is placing great demand on natural food products and fueling a push toward “farm to table” healthy eating, this “new” phenomena has been around for ages.

Just ask the folks at Providence-based United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI), the leading independent national distributor of natural, organic and specialty foods and related products.  Their story begins in the 1970s, when consumer interest in natural foods really blossomed

As the story goes, UNFI’s roots began in 1976 when a gentleman by the name of Michael Funk started Mountain People’s Warehouse out of the back of his Volkswagen van.  According to the UNFI website, this “was before there was even a legal definition of what organic meant. Mountain People’s sold only organic produce at first but soon grew to become the largest full line natural foods distributor in the Western United States.”

During the same time when Funk was getting his start, Rhode Island based Norman Cloutier opened Cornucopia Natural Foods in Rhode Island.  Cornucopia was initially started as a small retail store, but after a short period, Cloutier converted it to a warehouse to begin wholesale distribution.  The company grew exponentially over the years, acquiring several other distributors, including Rainbow Natural Foods, which was another seventies organic food start-up widely known throughout the Denver region.  In 1996, Cornucopia and Mountain People’s Warehouse formally merged, becoming UNFI, the company that has its global corporate headquarters based these days in the Ocean State.  

Today, the core of UNFI’s distribution operation consists of six main units: UNFI; UNFI Canada; Trudeau Distributing Company; Tony’s Fine Foods; Albert’ Organics; and Select Nutrition, including Honest Green.

Melody Meyer is UNFI’s Vice President of Policy and Industry Relations.  Meyer has witnessed significant and consistent growth in the organic food industry over the years, a growth that crisscrosses the country, and stretches overseas.  

“We are connecting with farmers from all over the country,” said Meyer.  “We help to facilitate their growth, which is ultimately beneficial to our business.  As people discover the benefits of healthy organic foods through local purchases, we deliver a full range of products to add to that healthy lifestyle.”

The one constant in the organic food industry is the fact that it is the consumer who drives the market.

“The consumer trend of understanding more about what we eat and where it comes from has been a driving force,” said Meyer. “Another has been the culinary return to ethnic roots and traditions.”

You can be sure that UNFI and its many entities will be there for the next turn – well ahead of the curve.

To learn more about the organic food industry, visit Melody Meyer’s blog at: www.organicmattersblog.com