Coles Myer, Australia’s largest retailer, has started a global search for an executive to run its supermarkets division.

The search, which is expected to take about six months, has been sparked by the retirement of Alan Williams, chief operating officer of the food and liquor division.

The Coles Myer group includes department stores, Kmart and Target but the only division really producing significant returns is food and drinks. It is widely expected that the new appointment will become the next group chief executive as the current CEO, John Fletcher, was hired after he had already retired from the industrial conglomerate Brambles.

Coles Myer continues to struggle with investor confidence but has attempted to reassure the market by promising that it remains on track for full year 2002-03 profits of between A$425m (US$252.2m) and $435m.

Despite this Credit Suisse First Boston and Salomon Smith Barney have downgraded their forecasts.

Coles Myer released first half figures today [Friday] showing that sales growth of 5.5%. But second quarter sales growth, during the important Christmas period, had contracted to 4.1%, confirming fears of a retail slow-down. Sales growth in the food and drink business was up 5.3% in the six months.