Former Lion Co and Nestle chief executive Rob Murray has been appointed chairman-elect at Metcash, strengthening the grocery wholesaler’s consumer goods expertise as it attempts to reverse a two-year slide in sales and earnings.

Mr Murray, who ran Nestle’s Oceania business for four years and was chief executive at Lion from 2004 to 2012, transforming the beer company into Australia’s biggest brewer, was appointed a non-executive director of Metcash on Wednesday and will succeed Peter Barnes as chairman after the August annual meeting.

Mr Murray was also a non-executive director of auto accessories and sporting goods retailer Super Retail Group, a major competitor of Metcash’s AutoBarn business, but he stepped down on Wednesday after his appointment to the Metcash board was announced.

He remains chairman of consumer electronics retailer Dick Smith and is a non-executive director of Southern Cross Austereo, and privately owned logistics company Linfox.

Mr Barnes welcomed Mr Murray’s appointment, saying he had considerable and broad-based consumer experience in fast-moving consumer goods and food and grocery retailing.

“His in-depth understanding of consumers will be a great asset to Metcash as we continue the company’s transformation journey,” Mr Barnes said.

Metcash is two years into a five-year turnaround plan aimed at restoring sales and earnings growth by refurbishing IGA supermarkets and reducing the gap between IGA’s prices and those at Coles, Woolworths and Aldi.

The wholesaler supplies more than 2000 independent IGA  retailers, who have lost market share amid mounting price competition in the $88 billion grocery market.

Metcash chief executive Ian Morrice warned in December that the wholesaler’s earnings may not recover until 2017 because key elements of the turnaround plan, including a price-matching program, had taken longer than expected.

Analysts believe the price-matching program is gaining traction but gains may be difficult to sustain as Coles and Woolworths step up investment in discounting and promotions.

Extracted in full from the Sydney Morning Herald.