- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 14, 2003

AMSTERDAM (AP) — NutraSweet Co. Chief Executive Lawrence Benjamin will become the top executive at U.S. Foodservice, the food distributor that led its Dutch parent Ahold into an accounting crisis earlier this year.

The operator of the Stop & Shop and Giant supermarket chains said Mr. Benjamin, who is also former executive at Stella Foods, Specialty Foods Corp. and Kraft Foods Inc., will assume the U.S. Foodservice post Nov. 1.

He takes over from interim CEO Robert Tobin, who was named head of Ahold’s U.S. business after bookkeeping irregularities were discovered in February at U.S. Foodservice, sending tremors through Ahold, the world’s third-largest retailer.

The irregularities at Columbia, Md.-based U.S. Foodservice led Ahold to restate its profit down by nearly $1.17 billion for 2000 to 2003, owing mainly to improperly booked rebates from suppliers.

Former Chief Executive Cees van der Hoeven, Chief Financial Officer Michiel Meurs and board member Jim Miller, CEO of U.S. Foodservice, were forced to resign.

Ahold operates supermarkets mainly on the East Coast of the United States, including the Bi-Lo and Tops Markets chains.

Ahold’s shares fell 7 cents to close at $10.29 on the Euronext stock exchange in Amsterdam. Its U.S. shares fell 1 cent to close at $10.24 on the New York Stock Exchange.

“While it is positive that Ahold is filling in important management positions, still no mention has been made concerning future strategy — that’s where all the eyes are focused,” said Bank Oyens & van Eeghen analyst Lukas Daalder.

Ahold said in a statement that an advisory board will be installed at U.S. Foodservice to oversee the required changes in controls systems and to ensure the implementation of solid corporate governance principles throughout the company.

NutraSweet, a privately held company based in Chicago, makes sugar substitutes such as aspartame.

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