Associated Wholesalers Inc. on Friday said that its CEO, J. Christopher Michael, is retiring after 41 years of service to AWI and would be succeeded by Matthew Saunders, effective immediately.

The company also said its board of directors has decided to pursue a sale of its White Rose subsidiary in a move that would return the Robsonia, Pa.-based distributor to its roots as a cooperative.

Carteret, N.J.-based White Rose is the largest independent food distributor in the New York metropolitan area, serving independents and small chains between lower New England and northern Virginia including Met Food and Pioneer. AWI acquired the voluntary wholesaler in 2006 and operated it as a separate division. At the time of its sale to AWI, White Rose was doing approximately $1.25 billion in sales. However, customers including Foodtown and Gristedes have since left for other suppliers.

Matthew SaundersThe AWI board has formed a special committee to pursue a sale of the White Rose business and has retained Lazard Middle Market as its investment banker to assist in this process.

“After extensive analysis, our board has determined that this is the right time to identify a suitable buyer for White Rose. Through this sale process, we intend to position White Rose for a fresh beginning under a new owner,” AWI said in a statement attributed to board chair Joyce Fasula and vice chairman Mike Rothwell. “A sale of White Rose will give AWI the opportunity to get back to our co-op roots, with a sharp focus on growing the core business.”


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Michael has served as AWI’s CEO for 35 years. “On behalf of the entire AWI board, we want to thank Chris for his extraordinary contributions to AWI and wish him well on his retirement. In his 34 years as CEO, Chris has played an important role in building AWI into one of the nation’s leading wholesale cooperatives,” Fasula and Rothwell said. “We are also pleased to have an executive as talented as Matt ready to assume the CEO role. Matt is a proven leader with extensive experience in our industry, and we are confident that he is the right person to steer AWI into its next phase of growth and development.”

Saunders joined AWI in 2012 as its chief operating officer. He is a former president of Merchants Distributors Inc., Hickory, N.C. and before that held several roles with Supervalu including VP of merchandising, VP of sales and marketing, and VP of category management.

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