VP of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Wellbeing, UNFI
For decades, Black farmers have faced systemic challenges resulting in the loss of their ancestral lands and limiting their access to critical resources.
UNFI places great value on its supplier relationships and takes significant interest in working with them to build their brands, drive growth and create long-term value. One of the areas where we are taking a specific interest in is our diverse supplier base, particularly farmers who are Black and Indigenous.
A century ago, more than one in seven U.S. farmers was Black. Today, according to a report from McKinsey & Co., that ratio is one in 70, a tenfold decrease, with fewer than 50,000 farms now operated by Americans who identify as Black or African-American. Further, Black farmers represent less than 0.5% of total U.S. farm sales and operate their farms at 70% of their U.S. peer-level farm revenue.
For decades, Black farmers have faced systemic challenges resulting in the loss of their ancestral lands and limiting their access to critical resources. UNFI recognizes the urgent need to address this matter and is committed to helping drive transformative change.
Addressing this issue is also critical to the success of food retailers and manufacturers, as inclusive procurement increases their supplier base, improves risk management and resonates with their increasingly diverse consumers. Again, according to McKinsey, simply bringing Black farmers to parity, on a per-farm revenue and profit basis, would yield $5 billion in economic value creation. This $5 billion represents more choice for consumers, better prices for customers and an overall healthier American agricultural sector.
Working Toward Inclusivity
To address this issue, the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), designed ACRES - Cultivating Equity in Black Agriculture, formerly known as Black Farmers Equity Initiative. The program is focused on reversing this decline, rectifying this disparity and advancing agricultural supply chain access for Black farmers. Benefits of the program also include strategic business support and skills development.
UNFI is a Founding Circle member of ACRES, with an ongoing financial and thought leadership commitment to advance this initiative. NMSDC and Cargill played key roles in initiating this collaboration, and many industry leaders have since joined this important effort. The issue can’t be solved in silos or overnight, and we will need more strategic public and private partners in this multigenerational effort.
For its part, UNFI raised more than $12,000 for the National Black Farmers Association during Black History Month in February. The company deployed one of our most successful associate-giving campaigns, using the Associate Action Hub. To encourage donations, UNFI matched associate contributions 100%, doubling the $6,000 that associates gave.
This donation to the Black Farmers Association will help it in its mission to serve Black farmers in support of civil rights, land retention, access to public and private loans, education and agricultural training, and rural economic development.
Additionally, the UNFI Foundation recently revealed that it was devoting more than $1 million in grant funding to further its mission of inspiring better food systems and promoting food equity in communities across the United States. This $1 million grant funding is a testament to UNFI's long-term commitment to improving food access.
Also, earlier this year, the UNFI Foundation established the Food Equity Project Grant, which awarded $100,000 to accelerate the efforts of a Rhode Island-based organization focused on creating equitable access to healthy food. Southside Community Land Trust (SCLT) was selected as the recipient of the Food Equity Project Grant for the organization’s advanced work increasing food access in Providence and surrounding communities, as well as connecting BIPOC producers to land and markets. Along with monetary support, UNFI will provide SCLT with its guidance and expertise, assisting in areas such as logistics and operations to efficiently further SCLT’s mission to provide access to land, education and other resources.
Our commitment to NSMDC is a critical step toward building a more inclusive and sustainable agricultural landscape. UNFI’s efforts to support Black and other minority farmers are part of the company’s continuing efforts to promote racial equity in the food industry.
About the Author
Guillaume Bagal is VP of diversity, equity, inclusion and wellbeing at United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI), the largest distributor of wholesale bulk food and products in North America. Prior to joining UNFI, Bagal was head of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island (BCBSRI), a nationally recognized health insurance company serving more than 400,000 members. He was also on the Governor’s Equity Council in Rhode Island, addressing inequities witnessed through the COVID-19 pandemic, and informing the state’s reopening plan. In 2022, Bagal was recognized in the Top 100 Diversity Officers list in the United States.