Natural Foods Merchandiser

Natural Products Industry Buzz

Fast Company salutes naturals
Every year, Fast Company magazine publishes its Fast 50, an acknowledgement of 50 individuals that "are writing the history of the next 10 years." Michael Funk, chief executive officer of United Natural Foods Inc., is No. 2 on the 2006 list, in the company of Microsoft founder Bill Gates (for his investment in India) and former President Bill Clinton (for his work on global climate change).

Funk is described by writer Mark Borden as "a little closer to the land than the average CEO of a $2.1 billion company. That's partly because he got his start not at Wharton but by picking apricots and peaches in the Sacramento Valley in the 1970s."

From humble beginnings in California, UNFI's earnings have grown 21.8 percent over the past five years, and its biggest customer, Whole Foods Market, doubled its share price in 2005.

"And while organic may still be a tiny slice of the $500 billion food biz, at 20 percent per year, it's growing faster than any other," FC reports. 'Over the next 10 years,' Funk says, 'you'll see a number of the large players experimenting around the country, developing stand-alone franchises of Whole Foods wanna-bes.' Whether it's Kroger's, Wal-Mart or Target—all three are moving in hungrily—United Natural Foods will be there, happily, at the bottom of the food chain."

Fast 50 entries are nominated by readers. Other readers assign rankings to the entries. On the list of "reader favorites" that garnered the highest rankings: Mike Fata of Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods & Oils; Joshua Onysko of soapmaker Pangea Organics; Ryan Black of Sambazon Acai; and Jonelle Raffino of South West Trading Co., maker of SoySilk fiber.

Is customer service a mystery to you?
Want to create a more loyal customer? Focus on training your employees to be courteous and knowledgeable, say more than 3,500 mystery shoppers surveyed by a trade association.

Mystery shoppers visit retailers and restaurants anonymously to see whether a store's policies and values are actually being carried out, according to the Mystery Shopping Providers Association. They rate the stores and eateries on speed, cleanliness, product knowledge, courtesy, quality of prepared food and other factors.

More than 52 percent of survey respondents, who said they spend a combined 90,000 hours a month evaluating businesses, reported that employee courtesy and knowledge are the areas in which they consistently score businesses high, although another 38 percent reported these areas as lacking among the stores they visit.

Nearly half (46 percent) said that employees fall short of their stores' standards for upselling.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 5/p. 14

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