Sunday, August 24, 2003

Giant Food Inc. has named a new executive to run the Landover grocery chain’s operations, transportation and warehousing.

James E. Astuto, 55, will start next week as executive vice president for operations for Giant’s 195 stores, which are owned by Dutch company Royal Ahold NV.

Mr. Astuto is transferring from Stop & Shop Supermarket Co., another Royal Ahold subsidiary, where he oversaw the conversions of 95 Edward and Grand Union grocery stores in New York and New Jersey to the Stop & Shop banner in 2000.

Mr. Astuto led the New York metro division of the Quincy, Mass., company as vice president for operations.

Before Stop & Shop, Mr. Astuto was the senior vice president for merchandising and operations at Nature’s Heartland Natural Food Supermarket Co. in Bedford, Mass.

The newly created position at Giant will be a larger responsibility for Mr. Astuto, who started his 35-year retail food business career as a bag boy in high school.

Dick Baird, Giant Food president and chief executive officer, said Mr. Astuto would “enrich Giant as a place to shop and work” by taking command of two divisions that were headed by Stephen Neal, senior vice president for store operations, and Jack O’Keefe, senior vice president for distribution.

Mr. Astuto said he took the position because of his past work with Mr. Baird and the opportunity to expand a chain owned by the same parent company.

The move comes as Royal Ahold is under investigation for overstating earnings from 2001 to 2002 by an estimated $856 million, mostly at its Columbia, Md., unit, U.S. Foodservice.

The world’s third-largest food retailer has delayed its earnings announcements since reporting the problem in February and plans to announce a strategy to shareholders at the end of September.

Mr. Astuto said he has not thoroughly researched Giant Food, instead preferring to talk with managers and customers at Giant stores to better understand the grocery chain.

“I don’t want to go in with an preconceived notions,” he said, adding that he did talk with customers at Giant stores in the D.C. area after taking the position.

“They had a lot of positive feedback and confirmed my decision to take up this great opportunity,” he said.

Mr. Astuto said he expects his major challenge at Giant to be recruiting strong management teams for new stores.

“Brick-and-mortar issues are much easier than getting a cadre of people who really want to help set Giant apart,” he said.

Mr. Astuto said his approach will not mimic his strategies at Stop & Shop.

“I’m going in with a fresh approach” when dealing with customer issues, promoting the Giant brand, and supporting the company’s growth plans, he said.

Mr. Astuto is relocating with his wife, Anna, to Annapolis.

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