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Diversity Buying 101: Q&A With UNFI's Rodriques

The inclusion of small businesses and businesses owned by minority and underrepresented groups in buying plans, is an important area of focus for retailers and distributors. 

Tomorrow, April 13 at 1 p.m. EST, Lori Rodriques, supplier diversity manager at UNFI, and Carla Hendon, director of supplier diversity at Meijer, will speak about diversity buying strategies during SFA's Buyers' Market webinar, “Diversity Buying: How it Works.” The webinar is free for members and $19 for non-members. Register now.

SFA News Daily spoke with Rodriques.

What are the core principles of effective diversity buying?

The core principle UNFI focuses on is inclusion: the ability to ensure everyone has a seat at the table.

How does the process of seeking out and partnering with diverse brands differ from standard buying practices?

As a supplier diversity professional, it’s part of my responsibility to ensure diverse brands have access to opportunities that they might not otherwise have. I meet diverse suppliers of brands and, when applicable and appropriate, I provide introductions to internal business owners with whom the diverse supplier may align.

UNFI is committed to developing, fostering, and retaining relationships with businesses owned by minorities, women, veterans (and service-disabled veterans), and members of the LGBTQ+ community. We can provide these businesses opportunities that can offer quality, innovative, competitive, and cost-effective products, and services consideration to join our supply chain.

Through which methods do you recommend discovering diverse brands?

I attend diverse certifying agency trade shows and my internal colleagues attend a variety of different industry trade shows, such as Expo West/East, the Specialty Food Association's Summer and Winter Fancy Food  Shows, as well as local and regional food shows, farmers' markets, etc. UNFI is the grocer’s partner. Our customers know their consumers, and which brands they want to bring into their stores. It is UNFI’s responsibility to ensure the brand will be able to meet the customers’ needs.

UNFI also promotes new and upcoming brands through our many customer publications including monthly digital publications, New and Now, Monthly Specials Catalog, Destination Fresh, UNFI Wellness, and UNFI Seasonal. Additionally, our UpNext program seeks emerging brands, diverse brands, and category disruptors to develop a strong, customizable relationship with UNFI.

What would you like attendees to get out of the session?

Diversity buying is about inclusion and providing opportunity. The diverse business needs to know what their core business is, where they fit, and/or what business needs they can solve.

I would like the attendees to understand that UNFI is the bridge between our customers and the brands they want to carry in their stores. We can't do it without the partnership of our customers, as well as their commitment to purchase. Any brand supplier needs to understand UNFI cannot consider offering them a distribution opportunity unless the brand has obtained a commitment to purchase from our customer and meets our distribution requirements.

Related: SFA Webinar: How Diversity Buying Works; Caffeinated Goodness With Luke Schneider, Fire Department Coffee