Woolworths supermarkets new managing director claire peters to lead the companys fight against coles and aldi

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WOOLWORTHS has a new weapon in Australia’s $90 billion grocery war.

The retailer has tapped longstanding Tesco executive Claire Peters to lead its supermarkets in the fight to steal customers from Coles and Aldi.

Ms Peters has more than 20 years experience in retail, most recently as chief operating officer of British supermarket giant Tescos operations in Thailand.

She will report to Woolworths chief executive Brad Banducci, who will continue to play an active leadership role in the supermarkets, digital, metro and New Zealand supermarkets businesses, the company said in a statement on Monday.

Mr Banducci was appointed managing director of Australian food and liquor in February 2015, and a year later became chief executive of the entire group.

Successful retailers put their customers first and I look forward to continuing to drive Woolworths existing customer-led strategy, Ms Peters said. She starts the role on July 1.

Woolworths has spent $1 billion cutting supermarket prices in the face of competition from Coles and German budget retailer Aldi opening more stores across Australia.

The spending spree has started to pay off but its still early days.

In October, Woolworths reported a rise in underlying food sales for the first time in almost two years.

Comparable food sales, which excludes store openings and closures, rose 0.7 per cent in the first quarter of 2016/17, ahead of analysts expectations of a 0.4 per cent rise.

Coles booked a 1.7 per cent rise in comparable food sales in the first quarter.

As well as operating 3000 supermarket stores, Woolworths portfolio includes discount department store chain Big W, apparel and homeware catalogue business EziBuy, liquor stores chains BWS and Dan Murphys, and New Zealand grocery chain Countdown.

Woolworths recently agreed to sell its petrol stations to BP for $1.8 billion, and is in the process of trying to turn around Big W after its boss, Sally Macdonald, resigned last year.

Woolworths booked about $460 million in asset writedowns related to Big W and Ezibuy in August, when the group reported a $1.23 billion annual loss.

At 2.30pm AEDT, Woolworths shares were up 7.5 cents, or 0.31 per cent, to $24.46 in a higher Australian share market.