Bruce Rohde, chairman and chief executive officer of US packaged food company ConAgra has lanched a formal search for his successor, asking the company's board to approve the formation of a search committee.

"My goal here is to set the stage for purposeful succession planning," Rohde said. "Because of a diligent board and a dedicated team of people, the right things have happened over the past several years. The company has made significant progress and in my view is now well poised for a new and significant phase of execution and growth."

Rohde has been CEO of ConAgra Foods since September 1997 and chairman since September 1998. In that timeframe he has transformed the company from an agriculturally based conglomerate and built it into one of North America's largest packaged foods companies focused on retail, foodservice and ingredient customers, the company said.

When he took over as CEO more than half of the company's sales were derived from commodity businesses; in 2004 earnings and dividends were record amounts, and more than 80% of the company's sales were derived from branded and value-added foods.

"As a result of Bruce's leadership ConAgra Foods is greatly transformed. When we recruited him as CEO we were looking for someone who was capable of rationalizing and consolidating a business that had grown very quickly through multiple acquisitions," said Carl E. Reichardt, lead director of ConAgra Foods board.