Supervalu Inc. shareholders have approved a reorganization of the food distribution firm that is designed to make it easier to sell its retail operations.

The decision was the most consequential at a later-than-usual annual meeting last week that, until the company's sale was announced last month, would also have marked the climactic end of a proxy battle between management and an activist shareholder.

The shareholder, Blackwells LLC, withdrew an effort to replace Supervalu's board of directors a few days after the Eden Prairie company on July 26 announced it had agreed to be purchased by United Natural Foods Inc., a distributor specializing in organic and natural foods. United Natural Foods offered a 67 percent premium for Supervalu shares.

With Supervalu's sale likely to be approved at a later date, shareholders last week overwhelmingly re-elected the company's current directors.

Supervalu earlier this spring told shareholders it wanted to reshape itself into a holding company structure that would facilitate an easier disposition of its retail stores. After several previous sales of regional grocery chains over the past few years, Supervalu's retail holdings now chiefly consist of Cub Foods in Minnesota, Hornbacher's in North Dakota and Minnesota, and Shoppers Food and Pharmacy in several mid-Atlantic states.

United Natural Foods executives said they would sell the Supervalu retail chains after closing the acquisition. But Supervalu is allowed to sell some or all of them first, if any such deals meet conditions the two firms agreed upon. Either way, the fate of Cub Foods, the largest grocery chain in the Twin Cities with a 25 percent market share, and Supervalu's other retail units is up in the air.

The holding company structure may assist in that process, though it wasn't a condition of the Supervalu sale to United Natural Foods. Investors representing 27 million Supervalu shares approved of the change, with those representing about 189,000 shares voting against it.

Supervalu shareholders expressed less support in a say-on-pay vote, a nonbinding review of the sentiment about the compensation given to the company's executives. Investors representing 20 million shares approved of the pay package, while investors representing 7 million shares disapproved.