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    Kroger Replaces Chief Executive

    Joseph Pichler, who helped grow the chain into a nationwide force, leans toward retirement.

    CINCINNATI -- Joseph Pichler, who helped build the Kroger Co. into a nationwide grocer as its chairman and chief executive officer, took a step toward retirement Thursday as he relinquished the CEO's job to company president David Dillon. He will remain as chairman of the supermarket chain, which is facing stiff grocery competition from Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

    The sluggish economy and the war with Iraq posed additional challenges, he told Kroger shareholders Thursday at their annual meeting. Pichler said he wants to retire before he turns 65 in October 2004. The date of his retirement has not been disclosed, according to the Associated Press.

    Kroger's board of directors said it was promoting Dillon, 52, immediately to CEO and plans to also give him the chairman's job when Pichler retires.

    Pichler has been chairman and chief executive since 1990. He has directed Kroger during a nationwide expansion, including its 1999 merger with Fred Meyer Inc., the food retailer based in Portland, Ore. Dillon joined Kroger's board in 1995 as president, and also has been chief operating officer for seven years. From 1986 to 1995, he was responsible for the supermarket, convenience store and manufacturing operations of the former Dillon Cos., which merged with Kroger in 1983. He has 27 years of management experience in the supermarket industry.

    W. Rodney McMullen, 42, is Kroger's new vice chairman, assuming additional responsibilities for management information systems and logistics. Since 2000, McMullen has been executive vice president of strategy, planning and finance. He joined Kroger in 1982.

    Donnie McGeorge, executive vice president, is the company's new president and chief operating officer. McGeorge, 48, joined Kroger in 1977. He was elected executive vice president in 2000.

    Robert Zincke, 60, senior vice president, moves up to executive vice president to succeed McGeorge. J. Michael Schlotman, Kroger's chief financial officer, retains that job and adds the title of senior vice president. Schlotman, 45, joined Kroger in 1985.

    Kroger operates 792 convenience stores under brands such as Turkey Hill Minit Markets, Loaf 'N Jug, Tom Thumb and 2,496 supermarkets and multi-department stores in 32 states, in addition to 395 supermarket fuel centers.

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