From GMOs to Expanding Consumer Demands—
Facing Challenges Head On
While Remaining True to
An Interview with Michael Funk, Chair and Co-Founder of United Natural Foods, Inc.
and President of the Non-GMO project
In 1976, Michael Funk, with his signature ponytail, Purple Converse Hightops and a resolve to do what he believed in, took money saved from a job hauling trash and decided to clean up the planet in a
different way—by hauling organic food instead. Since then Funk’s
company, originally named Mountain People’s Ware-
house, has evolved into a $4 billion enterprise known
as United Natural Foods, Inc. or UNFI.
As the co-founder of what is now the nation’s
largest natural foods distributor, Funk has made it
possible for millions of consumers across the nation
to have access to over 60,000 organic and natural
products at more than 17,000 retail locations nationwide. This includes thousands of independent
natural food stores—the pioneers of organic retail—
which Funk continues support, offering tools to help
them compete and prosper in today’s market.
From his position in the food chain, Funk has a vantage point that
not only allows him to see what consumers and retailers are looking for
from a brand—but also to see the overall challenges the industry faces.
One major hurdle is the growing threat of GMO contamination. Spearheading the effort to
fight this, Funk serves as the president of the Non-GMO project, a non-profit that verifies the
non-GMO status of natural and organic products through tracking and testing and provides education on the subject. GMOs, however, are but one of many concerns for today’s informed
consumer. Recently Funk took some time to chat with Organic Processing about some of the opportunities and obstacles in the organic industry and the goals UNFI has to take organic and
natural foods to the next level while remaining true to its roots.