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DAYVILLE, Conn. -- Natural and organic food distributor United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI), based here, said yesterday that Steven H. Townsend had retired from the positions of president and c.e.o. to devote more time to his other investments and business interests, and that Michael S. Funk, a United Natural Foods director who served as president from 1996 to 1999 and president from 1999 until his retirement in 2002, had resumed both of those roles.
Townsend will remain chair of the board of directors, a position he has held since January 2004, until UNFI's annual meeting, which will take place Dec. 8. To ensure what Funk referred to as a "relatively seamless" transition, Townsend will act as a consultant to the company.
"The board thanks Steve for the significant contributions he has made during his 23 years of service in various senior executive positions at United Natural Foods and its predecessor companies," noted Thomas B. Simone, vice chair of the board and lead independent director, in a statement. "Steve developed a strong, highly competent and motivated management team, and over the last three years the company's sales grew to $2.1 billion, with shareholder value enhanced by substantial investment in people, facilities, equipment, and technology. The company reached many significant milestones during his career at United Natural Foods and we wish him well in his future endeavors, including as a consultant to UNFI." Townsend was elected president in April 2001 and c.e.o. in January 2003. He has been a member of UNFI's board of directors since December 2000 and was earlier on the board from 1996 to 1998.
Funk has been affiliated with United Natural Foods and its predecessors since 1976 and has served as a board member since 1996. He was the vice chair of the board from February 1996 to December 2002 and chair from January 2003 to December 2003.
According to Simone: "As a co-founder of United Natural Foods in 1996, [Michael S. Funk] was a leader of a great team that built the organization into the leading natural products wholesaler in the United States. During his tenure as c.e.o., he successfully led an operational turnaround, with revenues increasing to over $1.2 billion. We believe Michael's proven track record, supported by the company's strong executive management team, will enable United Natural Foods to strengthen its leading position as 'America's Premier Certified Organic Distributor.'"
Added Funk: "I am excited about United Natural Foods' future. We have a highly experienced management team, a base of over 20,000 customers nationwide in every class of trade, and a solid balance sheet, all of which positions us for long-term sustainable growth."
During a conference call yesterday, Funk said he had no current plans to change any major strategic directions at the company and would continue to drive ongoing initiatives, although he noted that a little further down the road the company would take a "fresh look" at its strategies. He denied that Townsend's departure had anything to do with UNFI's upcoming quarterly financial results or future guidance, which the company declined to discuss during yesterday's call, characterizing his immediate predecessor's decision to leave as "personal in nature," and disputed the idea that Townsend's retirement was sudden, noting that it had been talked about internally for the past few months. Funk also said that he didn't anticipate any other executive changes at the present time.
Among the specific company goals that Funk mentioned in the course of the call were to further cement UNFI's relationship with Whole Foods, build management depth, and seek out more growth opportunities at such major mainstream national supermarket companies as Kroger, with which the distributor has already joined forces for some "little pieces" on a regional basis. Admitting that he had been "getting a little bored" with retirement, Funk placed no timetable on his present tenure.
UNFI carries and distributes over 40,000 items to more than 20,000 customers across the country. The company serves a wide variety of retail formats, among them conventional supermarket chains, natural product superstores, independent retail operators, and foodservice operators.