LONDON (FNS) -- Marks & Spencer here said Alan C. Levitan has been named president and chief executive officer of Kings Super Markets, its West Caldwell, N.J.-based chain of 22 stores.
Levitan, who was Kings' executive vice president and chief operating officer, replaces Jim Meister, who announced his retirement effective July 1 after 35 years in the food industry -- more than 24 of which were with Kings.
Meister will become a consultant to Kings, focusing on strategic planning, the company said.
Marks & Spencer last week unveiled plans to significantly expand Kings over the next few years, including opening more stores in its existing 25,000-square-foot format as well as a new, smaller format designed to fit near train stations and offer fresh meals to commuters.
The plans were discussed as Kings reported a 7.4% drop in operating profit to $17 million on a 4.6% rise in sales to $382.9 million for the year ended March 31.
This compares with operating profit of $18.4 million on sales of $366.2 million the previous year, Marks & Spencer said.
"Kings Super Markets had a reasonable year and, although profits were down, this mainly reflects some exceptional information-technology and other expenditures during the year and not a basic shift in their trading patterns," said Robert Colvill, Marks & Spencer's finance director. Marks & Spencer now believes it's positioned to step up expansion of Kings, which over the last few years has opened only one or two stores annually.
Chris Littmoden, director of retail operations in North America for Marks & Spencer, said the acceleration already is under way. "We will open new stores as fast as we can get the sites," he said.
Marks & Spencer believes it's finally figured out how to apply its expertise in chilled and prepared foods to the U.S. market, which is why it bought Kings in the first place. But its initial plans to launch its chilled and prepared meals, as well as its own St. Michael label, were derailed by lack of chilled distribution capacity, lack of manufacturing and the distances involved in distribution.
Littmoden now believes all these problems are relatively solved and that provides Kings with a unique position in the U.S. food-retailing market.
"Our competitors generally get about 4% of their sales from ready meals, while at Kings it's 16%," he said.