Haggen appoints new leadership team after CEO resigns

Haggen CEO C.J. Gabriel Jr. has resigned his position with the Bellingham-based grocery chain, a senior executive with the company has confirmed.

Clement Stevens, Haggen’s senior vice president of merchandising, said the company’s board of directors accepted Gabriel’s resignation on Friday, Dec. 7.

Rather than search for a replacement, Stevens said the company is appointing a three-member leadership team made up of himself; John Turley, Haggen’s chief operating officer; and Ron Stevens, who serves as both chief financial officer and chief information officer for the company. (Clement Stevens and Ron Stevens are not related.)

The new leadership will be officially known as the “Office of the President,” Stevens said.

Haggen’s employees and customers will likely not notice any changes, Stevens said.

He added that the new team is committed to continuing Haggen’s major rebranding effort underway in a number of its markets.

Most Haggen locations in Bellingham have been remodeled in the past year under the new company store theme, called “Northwest Fresh.”

The company’s Sehome Village store in Bellingham will host a rebranding event on Wednesday, Dec. 12.

C.J. Gabriel Jr., known to friends and colleagues by his nickname, “Gabe,” was a key player in the chain’s rebranding.

Stevens noted Gabriel’s contributions to the company during his time in the leadership role.

“The company is assembling a new management team,” Stevens said. “But obviously, Gabe will be missed.”

Gabriel had been the CEO at Haggen since 2011, taking over shortly after The Comvest Group, a Florida-based investment firm, bought a majority share in the grocery chain.

There is no indication of what led to Gabriel stepping down.

The now-former chief executive declined to comment on his resignation when reached by phone.

But he did praise the people he had worked with while at Haggen.

“I want to wish all the Haggen and TOP people nothing but the best,” Gabriel said.

His departure is the third top-level change at the company in the last three years.

Before Gabriel’s start at Haggen in 2011, Jim Donald, a former Starbucks executive, took over the role of president and CEO in 2009 from Dale Henley, who had been in the position since 1996.

Prior to Haggen, Gabriel spent time as a senior executive with several major food and beverage companies, including Albertsons and PepsiCo Inc.

In a July 2012 interview with the Bellingham Business Journal, Gabriel said one of his main goals at Haggen was to combine the company’s two brands—Haggen Food & Pharmacy and TOP Food & Drug—under one banner.

The “Northwest Fresh” facelift will place all of the chain’s TOP stores under the Haggen name within the next several years. The rebranding effort also comes with a new focus on products with natural, locally produced ingredients.

Haggen, which was founded in Bellingham in 1933, is one of the largest private companies in Washington state.

Contact Evan Marczynski at evan@bbjtoday.com or call 360-647-8805. 

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