Photograph by WGB Staff
United Natural Foods Inc. has appointed Staples executive J. Alexander “Sandy” Miller Douglas to CEO after an extensive search following the announcement in September 2020 that Steven Spinner planned to retire this year.
Douglas, who most recently was CEO of Staples, was also named to UNFI’s board of directors. His appointment, as well as Spinner’s retirement from the CEO role and the board, is effective Aug. 9. Spinner will continue to provide management and board advisory services to UNFI through a transition period for up to one year after his retirement.
“We are pleased to welcome Sandy as our new CEO and member of the UNFI board,” said Denise Clark, chair of the board’s nominating and governance committee and CEO succession planning committee, in a release. “He has a demonstrated track record leading large-scale transformation and growth through strategic, customer-focused action. His extensive experience, which is directly aligned with UNFI’s focus on growing the core business while investing in innovation, make Sandy well-suited to successfully drive the company through its next chapter of growth.”
As CEO of Staples, Douglas led the North American business-to-business distribution platform’s strategic transformation and guided the company throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to Staples, he was president of Coca-Cola North America. During his 30-year tenure at The Coca-Cola Co., he also was global chief customer officer, and held a variety of leadership positions across sales and marketing.
“I am honored to join UNFI. The company’s vision to transform the future of food has never been more important, and the opportunities in front of us are tremendous,” Douglas said in a release. “Under Steve, UNFI has built a strong foundation for growth, and I look forward to working with UNFI’s exceptional leadership team, the 30,000 hard-working associates across this entire organization and our board to continue delivering innovative growth platforms that help make our customers stronger and our operations more successful.”
Spinner has been UNFI’s CEO since 2008, arriving from Performance Food Group. His tenure was marked by the “mainstreaming” of the natural foods movement and the growth of its biggest retail client, Whole Foods Markets. UNFI is the primary natural foods supplier for hundreds of U.S. independent natural food stores and has natural food supply agreements with several mainstream supermarket chains.
“Under his leadership, the company has become the largest grocery wholesaler in the country by acquiring a variety of businesses and innovating new products and services. Steve has navigated this tremendous growth and change the right way, bringing teams together and preserving the culture of UNFI and its core mission and values,” Michael Funk, board member and co-founder of UNFI, said in a release.
Peter Roy, UNFI’s lead independent director, added, “Steve has been a pioneer in the industry and leader of sustainable growth in the food supply chain through progressive environmental, social and governance commitments that truly are better for all. The entire board thanks Steve for his dedication to and leadership of UNFI, and we wish him all the best as he transitions into retirement.”
Spinner said, “It has been my great honor to lead UNFI. I am so proud of what this team, including Chris Testa, who will continue in his president role, continues to achieve as the largest grocery distributor in North America. With unmatched scale, product and service offerings, and a commitment to innovation and sustainability, I truly believe UNFI is positioned to deliver exceptional value for its customers and stakeholders going forward.”
Also effective Aug. 9, the UNFI board has elected Jack Stahl to serve as independent chair of the board. Stahl has served in senior leadership positions throughout his career, most recently as president and CEO of Revlon Inc., and currently serves as lead director of Catalent Inc.
“Since joining our board, Jack has made meaningful contributions and developed strong relationships,” Clark said. “Jack’s experience in executive and board leadership roles provide a strong foundation for his leadership of UNFI. The entire board looks forward to working closely with Jack and Sandy as we guide UNFI’s growth and support the entire team in their mission to transform the future of food.”
With Stahl’s appointment as an independent chair, Roy will step down as the company’s lead director, a position he has held since 2019, and will remain an active member of the UNFI board. “During Mr. Roy’s oversight as lead director, UNFI has met the challenges of a rapidly changing macro environment, the global pandemic and significant senior leadership changes. His extensive hands-on knowledge of the industry has been invaluable to the UNFI Board over his tenure, and we look forward to his continued service on the Board as the Company transforms the future of food,” Clark said.
Stahl joined the company’s board in June 2019 and has been the chair of the compensation committee since September 2020. With Stahl stepping into his new role as chair of the board, the compensation committee has appointed Daphne Dufresne as the new compensation committee chair, also effective Aug. 9, 2021. Stahl will continue to serve as a member of the committee.
Get today’s need-to-know grocery industry intelligence. Sign up to receive texts from Winsight Grocery Business.