BOISE, Idaho — Vivek Sankaran, president of Frito-Lay North America, has been hired by Albertsons Cos. as the grocery chain’s new president and chief executive officer. The 55-year-old Sankaran is replacing Jim Donald, who took the helm in September, succeeding longtime CEO Bob Miller, who stayed on as chairman of the board of directors and will now become chairman emeritus and maintain his seat on the board.
Donald will continue to serve Albertsons Cos. as board co-chair with Len Laufer, who heads a technology subsidiary of Cerberus Capital Management, the private equity owner of Albertsons Cos.
Sankaran is coming to Boise after a decade with PepsiCo Inc., Frito-Lay’s owner. He was named chief operating officer in 2016 and promoted to president of Frito-Lay North America in December, overseeing the company’s $15 billion snack food business. Sankaran assumes his role at Albertsons Cos. on April 25.
“Vivek has the keen understanding that the front line is directly linked to the bottom line, and I’m confident he will inspire and engage our 270,000 associates across our stores, support offices, manufacturing facilities and distribution centers,” Donald said in a statement.
Sankaran earned a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Michigan, a master’s in manufacturing from the Georgia Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, in Chennai, India.
“It is a great privilege to join a company that has such deep roots in American retail,” Sankaran said in a prepared statement. “Albertsons, Safeway, Vons, Jewel Osco, Shaw’s, ACME, Tom Thumb, Randall’s, United Supermarkets, Market Street, Pavilions, Star Market, Haggen and Carrs — all of these banners and more in the Albertsons Cos. family of stores have hundreds of years of combined history. Our stores are integral to the lives of millions of customers each week.
“I’m excited to build on the legacies of past CEOs Bob Miller and Jim Donald, who both laid a solid foundation for success, and look forward to working with our associates to realize the opportunities and navigate the challenges in our evolving industry.”
Donald had returned to Albertsons Cos. early last year to replace the retiring Wayne Denningham as president. A few months later, he was elevated to the role of CEO, succeeding Miller, to steer the supermarket chain’s bid to win regulatory approval of its proposed merger with retail drug store chain Rite Aid Corp., where Donald served on the board between 2008 and 2013. But that deal was called off in August on the eve of a shareholder vote amid mounting protests from Rite Aid investors who felt that the $24 billion price tag undervalued the pharmacy chain’s retail business and its prescription drug benefit service.
During Donald’s brief tenure as CEO, Albertsons Cos. reported two quarters of positive earnings and invested in a partnership with Microsoft Corp. to enhance its omnichannel capabilities.
Albertsons Cos. last fall launched a digital marketplace selling food, wellness and household products and establishing an “infinite aisle” where customers can buy directly from manufacturers, with an emphasis on natural, organic, ethnic and “alternative” products.
The marketplace is also providing the retailer with data about customers nationwide that should help it identify shifting consumer interests, regionally specific shopping needs and new food trends, Albertsons Cos. said.