NEW YORK -- Ahold USA will evaluate options including banner and merchandising changes for its Maple Heights, Ohio-based Finast chain as part of its recently announced divisional reorganization, Robert Zwartendijk, president and chief executive officer, told SN in an interview here last week.
Ahold is doing extensive consumer research in Finast's market to gauge customer preferences now that the 42 Finast units are part of a new corporate division headed by Ahold's Tops unit, based in Williamsville, N.Y.
"We want to see what customers like and don't like at Finast, and what kind of alternatives we can offer to them from our Tops know-how," Zwartendijk said. "We'll gradually craft a new picture of what the stores will be like in the next couple of months, including the Finast name itself. The Finast name has a lot of positive connotations over there. In Connecticut, we converted Finast into Edwards. I'm not so sure we have to do that in Ohio. That depends on our consumer research."
Ahold USA, Atlanta, is the U.S. arm of Royal Ahold, Zaandam, the Netherlands. Also participating in the interview was Cees van der Hoeven, Royal Ahold president.
One scenario that would be considered is re-bannering the Finast stores with the Tops name, Zwartendijk said. Ahold expects to have much of the staffing, distribution and systems challenges worked out within two months for the new Finast-Tops arrangement, he said. The division's main office will be at Tops, and a regional office will be retained in Cleveland. A number of employees will relocate to the Buffalo, N.Y., area, while a small staff will remain in Cleveland.
"The biggest challenge is how to merge the languages of the two systems so we can compare things," Zwartendijk added. "Both Finast and Tops have their own information technology and MIS systems."
Zwartendijk also said Ahold's integration of Edwards Super Food Stores, Windsor Locks, Conn., into a division headed by Giant Food Stores, Carlisle, Pa., has progressed well. He added that Ahold also is pleased with the conversion of 16 Melmarkets' Foodtowns on Long Island, New York, to the Edwards banner -- with only a brief impact on sales -- and with the absorption of 35 Edwards units in New England and New York into the Stop & Shop division.
"The Edwards-Giant and Tops-Finast mergings will be behind us in January or February," Zwartendijk said.