UNFI, Shippers of Organic, Wholesome Food, Gearing Up

Several months after temporarily shutting its doors and laying off dozens of workers, the United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI) distribution center on Cameron Boulevard in Gilroy is back up and running. Its first product shipment was dispatched late last month and a new general manager is leading operations at the state-of-the-art plant.

“The future is bright for UNFI Gilroy, our associates and the community,” said Crystal Brennan, an 11-year veteran of the $6 billion publicly traded company, and UNFI’s first female general manager.

“The state-of-the-art distribution center was built for growth and is temperature-controlled to handle a variety of natural and organic products that our customers want, while still being energy efficient. UNFI Gilroy has applied for Gold LEED [Leadership in energy and environmental design] certification,” she said.

Brennan, a Texas native who worked at seven UNFI Distribution Centers in a variety of management positions, from human resources to operations and transportation before assuming the top job at UNFI Gilroy, said UNFI will “focus on giving back to the community through volunteer activities and green initiatives.”

UNFI Gilroy was not yet fully operational when it was announced last July 21 that the 425,000-square-foot distribution center would delay its start of business until early this year because it lost a critical customer, Safeway, in its Northern California market.

At that time, the Dispatch reported, then-mayor Don Gage had received a phone call and confidential note from UNFI’s chief operating officer, Sean F. Griffin, confirming the loss of Safeway and delay of the plant’s grand opening. Griffin said work would continue “on building and equipping the Gilroy plant with an eye toward opening in February.”

Consequently, the company laid off the 38 employees who had just started working at the plant and offered good-will payments to the other, eligible new hires that had not yet started working.

According to UNFI, more than 50 percent of the original active associates and others who had been offered positions are now working at UNFI Gilroy. The company has 132 employees, 43 of whom are Gilroy residents. The facility is huge and has room for expansion as the company gains more clients.

Many of the hires have prior experience in warehouse operations, according to UNFI, and all associates receive extensive training regarding policy, procedure, operations, position function, equipment and safety.

Brennan said that unlike other big warehouse companies, UNFI won’t replace workers with robots. The demands of the companies seeking their products are too specific for machines to do the work, she said, and the kinds of consumers who would buy the products would prefer knowing that people worked on the process, not robots.

While earlier reports stated the Gilroy plant would eventually expand to 700,000 square feet, UNFI said there are no plans for expansion.

The current plant size is 425,600 square feet.

Gilroy UNFI ships to customers including Whole Foods, CVS and Sprouts.

“I look forward to UNFI being an active member of the Gilroy community for many years to come,” said Brennan.

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