December 15, 2014

UNFI Committed to Environmental Responsibility


Thermo King’s Precedent® multi-temp unit leads efforts on distribution front

Environmental responsibility is in the DNA of long-time Thermo King customer UNFI (United Natural Foods Inc.).  With roots that date back to the 1970s when consumer interest in natural foods was sparked, Rhode Island-based UNFI was molded by combining the vision, entrepreneurial spirit and passion of several companies dedicated to healthy, sustainable products. It’s no surprise that the company carries those same principals over into all areas of company operations, including its distribution fleet.

And this is why Thermo King’s new Precedent™ trailer refrigeration unit platform has been chosen for both the UNFI fleet as well as Albert’s Organics, a business unit since 1998, and Sacramento-based Tony’s Fine Foods, which was acquired earlier this year.

UNFI, Albert’s Organics and Tony’s Fine Foods run a combined multi-temperature refrigerated fleet of 727 tractors, 965 trailers and 36 straight trucks. According to Blair Altemus, national fleet manager, the company runs a ‘mid-line’ distribution model. “It’s not quite as intense as food service distribution; we try to keep our average miles per route to a minimum,” he explained.

This makes sense considering that this fast-growing company operates 18 distribution centers (7 include Albert’s Organics products) in the United States and 3 in Canada. Careful planning and implementation of some rerouting projects has further improved length of routes and subsequently, fleet efficiencies.

“We service everything from small private stores to the Whole Foods grocery chain. It’s direct store delivery (DSD) that varies depending on the customer. Sometimes our drivers bump up to a dock and deliver five pallets or less. Sometimes they are unloading three full compartments – frozen, cooler and dry – of product,” continued Altemus.

UNFI, Albert’s Organics and Tony’s Fine Foods depend on Thermo King to provide dependable refrigeration and service to ensure quality product deliveries to its varying and fast growing customer list. Servicing UNFI on the local front is Bryan Gayman of Thermo King Northeast in Massachusetts and Frank Pryzwara, district sales manager with Thermo King Corporation.

“We’ve always been happy with the reliable technology and industry-leading fuel economy and noise abatement technology that Thermo King has offered. As environmental regulations pressured manufacturers to improve emission outputs, Thermo King did not cut corners or offer a Band-Aid fix. They did it right by launching the Precedent technology and a long-term fix,” said Jeff Wismans, national director of transportation, UNFI.

UNFI purchased 38 Precedent S-600M multi-temperature trailer units in late 2013, all going to California where the need was imminent based on California Air Resources Board (CARB) requirements. The company added 162 more in 2014 utilizing them throughout the country at various locations including New Jersey, Colorado, Washington, Wisconsin, New York, Georgia, Texas, North Carolina, Florida, Iowa, Indiana, New Hampshire, and California.

“Simply put, the Precedent burns less fuel and is less polluting (90% reduction in particulate matter, 37% reduction in NOx),” said Wismans. “It is a great fit for our company’s sustainability practices and goals. The unit offers fuel efficiency, which saves in fuel costs, and fewer emissions, which is better for the environment. We actively strive to improve our carbon footprint, and I am proud to be part of a company that invests in making the right choices – for the environment, the future and the company.”

In addition to its transition to the double-digit fuel savings of Precedent, UNFI has updated its fleet with Eco-Flaps to reduce aerodynamic drag on its trucks, installed software for route optimization, and also incorporated PeopleNet onboard vehicle technology to support efficient driving practices. All efforts are having an impact. UNFI saved 98,519 gallons of diesel fuel through increased fuel efficiency in 2013.

According to Altemus, UNFI generally maintains a 7 year life cycle on tractors and an 8 year life cycle on its trailers and is expecting that nearly every distribution location will have exposure to Precedent technology before years’ end so those efficiency numbers should only get better.

Walking the Walk

While UNFI is consciously making sustainable improvements to its fleet, the company’s investments in green initiatives go far deeper and are company-wide. In 2010, the company pledged to reduce its carbon emissions by 5 percent within 5 years and it is well on its way. The company’s 2013 Sustainability Report entitled ‘Cultivating Change’ is more than impressive.

UNFI has built multiple LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified buildings and is pursuing LEED certification on several new projects. They have achieved LEED Gold status on its new 535,069 square foot Denver distribution center which incorporates many sustainable features including:

  • 20% of all building materials are made with recycle content
  • Total water use reduction of 50% when compared to a typical building similar size and function
  • 50% of construction waste recycled or salvaged
  • Energy reduction of 50% when compared to a typical building of the similar size and function


The company invests in renewable energy to support a sustainable future. This includes solar panel arrays that are all the largest in the states in which they are located and have avoided thousands of tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

“Sustainability initiatives and associate involvement have always been part of our culture at UNFI,” said Tom Dziki, UNFI chief human resource and sustainability officer. "We are committed to researching and implementing streamlined and environmentally responsible processes that improve the overall efficiency of our supply chain while at the same time reducing our impact on the environment.”

More information on UNFI, including its Sustainability Report, can be found at See more about Albert’s Organics at Learn more about the Precedent S-600M multi-temperature unit at

(L-R): Wayne Carver, UNFI general manager, Aurora DC; James Carpenter, UNFI transportation manager, Aurora DC; Mike Bustos, UNFI fleet manager, Aurora DC; Lloyd Maynard, UNFI national fleet manager; Jeff Wismans, UNFI national director of transportation

Frank Pryzwara, Thermo King district sales manager, shares Precedent MT operational insight with UNFI Aurora DC technicians at a recent training.

Joe Shelters, Thermo King district service manager, discusses diagnostics and offers maintenance best practices during the technician training at UNFI’s Aurora, Colorado distribution center.

United Natural Foods Inc. |


We have since replaced the S-600M with the enchanced S-610M. Please click here to learn more.