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UNFI turns to tech to help deliver fresher produce

Grocery distributor United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI) has leveraged new technology to ensure produce reaches its retailer partners faster and fresher — and thus to their customers, too.

Providence, R.I.-based UNFI said late yesterday it has implemented new solutions and processes to shorten certain delivery times by more than a day and realize the full potential of its data points to deliver fresher produce to stores.

In addition, the wholesaler has unveiled plans to expand the catalog of organic produce under its Wild Harvest better-for-you brand. Already available at hundreds of retailers across the country, Wild Harvest — sporting easily recognizable purple branding — will add dozens of key items through the remainder of 2022. Earlier this year, UNFI launched a refresh of the Wild Harvest own brand with an updated logo and packaging plus new products.

UNFI said it redesigned its produce sourcing strategy by consolidating purchasing and procuring many items directly from major Mexican suppliers. Product is transported from those farms directly to its distribution centers via a cross-docking facility in McAllen, Texas. The distributor also implemented commodity-specific thresholds to accelerate product movement through its DCs and to retailers.

The new processes have improved inventory turnover, reduced inventory shrink and taken out at least a day, on average, from its supply chain during the past year, UNFI reported. And the company said it’s seeing results: Growth in its produce sales is outpacing the industry average even amid inflation.

“We know quality is the No. 1 driver for produce purchases, which is why we are fanatical about freshness at UNFI Produce,” Dorn Wenninger, senior vice president of produce at UNFI, said in a statement. “In line with UNFI’s overall strategy to harness technology and data to serve our customers better, these initiatives allow us to remove over a day from our supply chain and provide a fresher product to our customers and their shoppers. Our team is already seeing the positive results of our efforts to deliver the freshest produce to our customers, and I’m looking forward to continuing to evolve UNFI as a best-in-class produce organization.”

UNFI recently implemented Share-ify, a real-time, cloud-based, tablet-enabled quality control program, that allows it to synthesize tens of thousands of data points to remove variability and help ensure its growers and suppliers are providing the freshest produce possible. The technology is now in use at half of UNFI’s produce DCs and is slated to roll out to the rest of its produce facilities by September.

Susan Akin-UNFI.jpgSusan Akin (pictured left), director of quality assurance at UNFI, has been appointed to manage the rollout, the distributor said.

Overseeing quality control, Akin joined UNFI in March after almost 28 years at Walmart, most recently as senior business process manager at Walmart U.S. and, before that, as senior manager of supplier quality at Sam’s Club.

“The power of the data we now have in our hands is immense,” Wenninger added. “Our new technology updates provide greater transparency in our supply chain, better protecting our customers and helping us to provide them with the freshest, highest-quality produce available. But we’re not just investing in technology. With the addition of Susan and several other leaders to the team, we’re assuring that we have the expertise, focus and leadership to excel in unleashing the power of data for our customers.”

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