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RETAIL VIEW: Ahold USA restructures buying and merchandising

In a letter to its vendor-suppliers in mid-April, Ahold USA announced a restructuring of its merchandising and marketing team that will affect its produce buying operations at Stop & Shop and Giant.

"At this point, they have only announced the upper management team, so everyone else is on pins and needles," revealed one of those suppliers who requested anonymity and who received the letter and has had conversations with members of the retailer's produce operations.

The announcement detailed a new merchandising and marketing leadership team based in Carlisle, PA, "that will support the buying needs of all four Ahold USA retail divisions." Those four divisions are two Stop & Shop divisions as well as Giant-Landover and Giant-Carlisle, which includes the Martin's stores.

Steve Mayer, who joined Ahold about a year ago, is the new senior vice president of fresh, which comprises produce, floral, meat, seafood, deli, bakery, prepared foods and convenience foods. Previously, Mr. Mayer held that same position for Stop & Shop and Giant-Landover and was based in Quincy, MA.

This newest announcement from Ahold USA is a further refinement of its November 2009 restructuring, in which it reorganized its U.S. operation into the four divisions. Jeff Martin, executive vice president of merchandising and marketing, signed the vendor letter, which introduced the seven vice presidents, and he said that all these top people will report to him. "We will be working closely with these leaders to finalize the organizations of their respective functional areas and will make subsequent announcements as the organizations are finalized," he wrote in the letter.

Mr. Martin went on to explain the move. "After careful consideration, we also are announcing that our non-perishables and fresh-merchandising functions will be based in our offices in Carlisle, PA. The decision to locate the non- perishables and fresh merchandising functions in Carlisle -- where the buying office will support all of Ahold USA Retail's local divisions -- makes good business sense. Carlisle is the geographic center of our business on the East Coast and offers improved accessibility between merchandisers and vendors, and between merchandisers and our divisions. It is our intention to simplify and streamline our dealings with you, our vendors."

The letter advised suppliers to continue to work with their same contacts in Carlisle and Quincy until the new "structure is finalized during the coming weeks," adding, "we will do our best to communicate frequently and clearly about our progress."

The produce supplier that provided The Produce News with this vendor letter said that the presumption is that while the buyers will consolidate in Carlisle, Ahold USA will continue to operate from its same produce warehouse facilities. Prior to this new announcement, the Stop & Shop and Giant- Landover produce buying operations were conducted from the distribution center in Freetown, MA, which is in the southern part of the state, east of Providence, RI. Giant-Carlisle and Stop & Shop-Metro New York operated from Carlisle.

The produce supplier added that the purchase of 25 Ukrop's Super Markets by Ahold USA last year and the conversion of those stores to the "Martin's" brand added another factor to this reorganization. "You would expect that some produce buyers and support staff will lose their job in the move, but we haven't been told that yet," he said.

In a statement to the local press in Massachusetts, Ahold USA said that both the Quincy headquarters and the Freetown facility would remain open. The local Patriot Ledger newspaper reported on April 15 that Ahold USA is Quincy's largest employer and at one time employed 800 people in its headquarters office. A spokesperson for the retailer declined to state how many jobs remain in Quincy. The announcement stated, "We do anticipate that these changes will result in many support office jobs being changed, eliminated, moved or added. We won't know the extent of changes in the Quincy office until the final organization is completed, which is expected to be done by the end of the year."