Safeway's CEO Steve Burd will retire in May after more than 20 years with the grocer.
The chain, which has stores across the country, says it will search for a successor both internally and externally.
The 63-year-old Burd says he wants to spend more time with one of his signature pursuits at Safeway: health care. Safeway raised more than $2 billion for charities, including more than $200 million for cancer research under Burd's leadership, according to the company.
"While I still have the high level of energy and enthusiasm I brought to the company 20 years ago," said Burd. "I need more personal time and, given my extensive work in health care, I want to pursue that interest further."
Burd also said that with the company gaining market share, now is the right time to make the transition to new leadership. He will also give up his chairman position as well in May, during the annual stockholders meeting.
Burd started at Safeway Inc. as president in October 1992 and became its CEO months later.
Under his stewardship, the company undertook a number of initiatives, from the way produce is sold, to a prepaid card network for its stores.
It recently started its "Just for U" customer loyalty program, a bid to fend off big-box retailers and other competitors that are expanding their grocery aisles. In addition to competition from retailers such as Target Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores traditional supermarkets like Safeway are competing more with drugstore chains and dollar stores.
Safeway, based in Pleasanton, Calif., runs 1,644 grocery stores in the U.S. and western Canada. Its stock fell 12 cents to $18.23 in morning trading on Thursday.