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Karlene Hunter, Michael Funk and Mark A. Tilsen at Expo West at the Anaheim Convention Center, CA.
(Photo by Linda Crider)

UNFI co-founder Michael Funk visits Tanka team at Expo West
By Jenice Johnson, manager of marketing and communications

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Michael Funk, co-founder and chairman of United Natural Foods, Inc., stopped by the Tanka Bar booth at Expo West at the Anaheim Convention Center in California last weekend.

Mr. Funk was the founder and president of Mountain People's Warehouse before the company merged with Cornucopia Natural Foods, Inc., in 1996 and became United Natural Foods. He has been a longtime inspiration to Native American Natural Foods President Mark A. Tilsen, and Mr. Tilsen admitted that he became a bit "tongue-tied" when he met him.

"I've met a lot of celebrities, and meeting him was the first time I have ever been star-struck," Mr. Tilsen said. "Funk is one of the founders of the natural food industry and recognized early on the need to expand beyond co-ops."

UNFI is one of the Tanka brand's distribution partners as well as the nation's largest distributor of natural foods and related products. On March 3, UNFI reported that net income for the second quarter of the fiscal year ending Jan. 29, 2011, increased by $3 million.

According to the UNFI web site, the company's vision is "to be the unparalleled leader in the distribution, development and marketing of natural and organic, wellness, and specialty food products by fulfilling the highest standards for quality, consistency, sustainability, product assortments, dependability, value-added support services and integrity in our business and personal relationships."

Even from the grand success of UNFI, Mr. Funk keeps a modest attitude, Mr. Tilsen said. He doesn't show up to large food shows like Expo West in a suit with a massive entourage. He's the gentleman walking the show alone, in his signature green tennis shoes and a backpack over his shoulder.

"He's the most non-pretentious human being you'll ever meet," Mr. Tilsen said. "He's as real as they come. He expressed real support about what we are doing in bringing back the buffalo and helping Native people."

For Mr. Tilsen, Mr. Funk's leadership at UNFI represents the kind of direction many companies rarely engage.

"I've always had admiration for men and women who have built highly successful companies -- like one of our other partners, REI -- that still maintain their original mission on quality and how they treat the people that work for them," he said. "That is really the foundation of staying healthy as human beings and very few companies know how to do that. I have a lot of respect for those kind of people because they are the type of corporate leaders we need to solve difficult challenges, like the energy crisis. They are value driven, not just profit driven."

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