Former ice cream exec takes over health food chain

BOULDER, Colo. (AP) Perry Odak, former CEO of Ben and Jerry's ice cream, will replace Wild Oats co-founder Mike Gilliland as head of the nation's second-largest natural foods retailer.

Gilliland, 42, who led the company's transformation from a ''hippie, vegetarian store'' in Boulder to a publicly held concern with sales of more than $1 billion, will step down March 19. He will remain on the company board.

Odak, 55, served as CEO of premium ice-cream maker Ben and Jerry's Homemade Inc. until late January. He previously held senior executive positions at fragrance and cosmetics company Jovan, electronic game-maker Atari and Color Tile.

Following a rapid string of store acquisitions last year, Wild Oats' earnings fell to $876,000 in the fourth quarter from $4.9 million in the year earlier quarter, and same store sales dropped to negative 3.5 percent.

Wild Oats' stock had fallen from a high of $23.50 in April to a low of $3.87 in December to a recent range of between $6 and $7.

''They had a problem digesting the acquisitions that they made in 1999,'' said associate analyst Ed Aaron of Denver-based Tucker Anthony Sutro Capital Markets. ''Along the way, their stores became less competitive with (those of) other retailers.

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