While not as mighty as General Motors, to those who grew up in the industry during the 1980’s Tree of Life’s demise signals the complete transformation of the industry.
Once upon a time natural distribuors were regional, all with the exception of Tree. Rock Island and Stow Mills in the Northeast, Mountain People’s and Nature’s Best out west, Rainbow and Blooming Prairie in the plains and midwest and countless others middling to small, serviced what was then a retail world dominated by owner operated one or two store outlets.
Tree had it all and did it all until the upstart Moutain People’s, a company that outraged some by selling to buyer’s clubs, began its ascent. The story is worthy of a movie, with Mark Rufalo in the role of logistics genius Michael Funk, who soon enough bought all the competition that mattered. Today along with its produce arm another acquisition,Albert’s Organics, the company distributes an estimated 80% of all natural and organic products.
Change happens Ask your yoga teacher if its good or bad, because we don’t really know.
In the meantime a growing number of vendors are increasing their resistance to UNFI’s aggressive policy of charge backs, promotional allowances (some call it extortion) and other off invoice mechanisms that allow them to increase wholesale margins while leaving vendors increasingly unclear what the actual price of goods being sold to UNFI really is.