UNFI HistoryHistory

UNFI’s story begins in the 1970’s when consumer interest in natural foods started to blossom. Small regional distributors were established to meet the needs of this growing market that operated on vision, entrepreneurial spirit and a shoestring budget.

Mountain Peoples Warehouse logoMountain People's Warehouse was started by Michael Funk in 1976 out of the back of his Volkswagen van 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. The company is famous for its slogan, "To Boldly Go Where No Distributor Has Gone Before".

At about the same time that Michael Funk was starting Mountain People’s Warehouse, Norman Cloutier opened Cornucopia Natural Foods in Rhode Island. Rainbow Grocery, Denver - 1970'sRainbow Grocery, Denver - 1970'sCornucopia got its start as a small retail store but shortly after Cloutier converted it to a warehouse to begin wholesale distribution. The company grew and acquired several other distributors, including Rainbow Natural Foods. Rainbow began in 1973 as a small cooperative in downtown Denver. It soon outgrew its space and moved to a storefront. Rainbow Grocery opened daily to a large crowd while the company continued to expand both its distribution and retail business to a national scale.

Image: Cornucopia LogoIn 1996, after many years of substantial growth in the East, Cornucopia merged with Mountain People’s Warehouse. The two companies formed UNFI to better serve their customers and achieve operational efficiencies.

Image: Michael Funk unloading fruits and vegetables in the 1970's
Michael Funk (left) unloading fruits and vegetables in the 1970's

In the years following the merger, other regional distributors joined UNFI including in 1997, Stow Mills of Massachusetts. Stow Mills’ history is woven into the history of Llama, Toucan & Crow. In 1973, the natural foods store Good Life in Vermont had trouble receiving deliveries from distributors in Boston and New York. Bob Swanson, a clerk at the store, started driving to New York each week to pick up the store’s order. Other stores soon asked Bob to pick up their orders and from there Llama, Toucan & Crow was born. The company expanded and eventually bought Stow Mills, and began to operate under the Stow Mills name.

Another regional distributor that joined UNFI was Blooming Prairie. Blooming Prairie began as a cooperative in 1974 in Iowa City with three part-time workers and a network of volunteers. They would hitchhike to Minneapolis, rent a truck to pick up orders from People’s Warehouse and deliver them to the stores. But by 2002, after many years of growth, Blooming Prairie was the leading Midwest distributor of organic and natural products.

UNFI Acquisitions & Mergers

1996 UNFI is formed
1997 Stow Mills
1998 Hershey Import Company
Albert's Organics
2001 Source Organic
2002 Blooming Prairie
Northeast Cooperatives
2004 Select Nutrition Distributors
2005 Roots ‘N Fruits Cooperative
2007 Millbrook Distribution Services
2010 UNFI Canada
2011 B.K. Sethi Distribution
2012 Purity Organic
Disley Food Services
Honest Green
2013 Trudeau Distributing Company