Food Lion president leaving; grocer gets third new chief in two years

Salisbury-based Food Lion said Thursday that President Beth Newlands Campbell is leaving the company this week. She will be replaced by the grocer’s third top executive in less than two years.

Newlands Campbell said in a statement that she is leaving for “personal and professional reasons.” She was named president of Food Lion in December 2012, replacing Cathy Green Burns, to help the retailer win back customers and implement a turnaround strategy.

Food Lion is a subsidiary of Belgium-based grocery conglomerate Delhaize, which also owns Bottom Dollar Food and Hannaford supermarkets.

Meg Ham, president of Bottom Dollar Food, will replace Newlands Campbell, effective Saturday. Ham told the Observer she plans to continue many of the changes already put in place by Newlands Campbell.

“We’ve had some very good progress and good momentum,” said Ham, who previously worked at Food Lion as well. “I think the strategy has been set, and it will require a lot more change to totally transform our business.”

Kevin Holt, chief executive officer of Delhaize America, said in a statement: “We are extremely pleased to tap into internal talent to ensure a seamless transition of Food Lion operations to Meg Ham.” Holt was named to his position in June, replacing Roland Smith, who left in 2013 after holding his job for less than a year.

Food Lion operates about 1,100 supermarkets in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic states, employing 63,000 workers. About 2,000 work at Delhaize America’s Salisbury headquarters.

In a statement, Newlands Campbell said she is confident in the company’s prospects.

“I have full confidence the company has revitalized the image for its stores, enhanced service for its customers and is fully committed to serving its communities,” Newlands Campbell said. “I wish the company and its associates all the best in the future.”

Food Lion had struggled in the period leading to Newlands Campbell’s appointment. The company closed 126 underperforming stores in 2012 and discontinued its Bloom banner.

Newlands Campbell led Food Lion through a period of rapid change, as the grocer worked to find its place in the face of increasing competition, both from discounters such as Aldi and Walmart and higher-end grocers such as Harris Teeter and Publix.

She was blunt about what she saw as her role. “Staying the same is not an option,” Newlands Campbell told the Observer during an interview last August. “Am I a change agent? Absolutely.”

“We just have to get better, and we have to do it every day,” she said. “This is about fixing Food Lion by being a better Food Lion.”

Under Newlands Campbell, Food Lion opened a prototype for future stores in Concord with features such as a walk-in cooler for its produce department and continued with plans to remodel its existing stores. Food Lion also took steps to improve the quality of its produce and introduced more varieties of popular foods, such as Greek yogurt and Keurig single-serving coffee cups, while reducing less popular nonfood items, such as home air filters.

The company also rolled out a strategy to extensively retrain its in-store workers. Ham credited the retraining program with “creating a new culture at Food Lion.”

The company also sold its Harveys, Sweetbay and Reid’s stores – a total of 165 locations – to competitor Bi-Lo in 2013 for $265 million.

Food Lion’s efforts have boosted sales, the company said. In August, Delhaize reported its U.S. sales for the first half of the year were up 4.4 percent to $8.8 billion. Those results also include Bottom Dollar and Hannaford, but Food Lion accounts for more than 80 percent of the company’s U.S. stores.

But the cost of implementing the changes has cut into profits. Delhaize reported that even though sales were up, its U.S. operating profits fell 4.3 percent to $317 million for the first six months of the year.