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Delhaize America was in trouble. In the words of Pierre-Olivier Beckers, back in 2001, “We weren’t a group. We were a loose affiliation of independent companies with little link of any sort. We had underperforming, non-strategic banners and stores. Our sales were underperforming. Our concepts needed strategic thinking, and our debt leverage was huge.”
The 47-year-old Belgian, who also serves as chairman of his country’s Olympic committee, took control of U.S. operations in 2002, three years after being named head of Delhaize Group. Herculean efforts transformed Delhaize America into a family of highly focused, customer-centric concepts, including Bloom, Sweetbay Supermarkets, Hannaford, Bottom Dollar and Food Lion, that target specific market niches. The result—an operating income-to-sales ratio of 5.5% in 2006, some 30% higher than industry norm—has given new hope to other traditional grocers caught between discount and upscale food stores.