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Giant Food announced yesterday that Odonna Mathews, the company’s longtime consumer advocate, will retire after almost three decades with the company, a tenure that that has survived five CEOs and an acquisition by Ahold that eventually led to its absorption by the company’s Stop & Shop division.

The Washington Post, in reporting on Mathews’ retirement, wrote the following:

“Mathews served as a powerful link to Giant's local heritage. Even after the chain was sold to a foreign company and merged with a supermarket chain in New England, Mathews remained, offering suggestions on how to cook 30-minute meals with five ingredients…over time, she took the region's biggest supermarket chain and humanized it, appearing in simple, unglamorous radio and television advertisements and dutifully responding to thousands of phone calls and letters from grumbling Giant shoppers.”

And, the Post writes, “Mathews was Giant's designated internal critic, charged with informing top executives of what shoppers loved and what they hated.”

The paper notes that when Mathews is replaced, it will be by Andrea Astrachan who will work out of the company’s Massachusetts offices, not out of the Washington, DC, area.

Mathews said that her retirement is her decision and that she wants to spend more time with her school-age children.
KC's View:
While we don’t doubt the good intentions and talents of Odonna Mathews’ successor, we simply don’t understand how a local advocate can live hundreds of miles away and be an effective consumer advocate.

Mathews has been a beacon of common sense for DC area consumers, providing daily reassurance that Giant was on their side as opposed to just being the manufacturers’ sales agent. That is an enormously important role, and one that too few retailers have.

There are other wonderful people out there who play similar roles for their companies. People like Wegmans’ Mary Ellen Burris, and Schnucks’ Joanie Taylor. But Mathews’ retirement is a loss not just to Giant, but to the industry at large.