Target Corp. hired a grocery industry veteran with Minnesota roots to help revive its food aisles, the company said Monday.

The Minneapolis-based retailer tapped Anne Dament, 48, who has held executive posts at PetSmart and Safeway, to be its senior vice president of merchandising in charge of repositioning Target's grocery department. She starts April 20.

The appointment has been highly anticipated since CEO Brian Cornell made reinventing the food section a significant part of his strategy to improve Target's sales. Food accounts for about $20 billion, or nearly one-fourth, of Target's revenue.

But the company acknowledged recently that its grocery department missed the mark with shoppers because its offerings aren't specialized enough. So executives launched an overhaul that includes adding more organic and natural offerings to appeal to millennials. Target is also doubling down in a handful of food categories where it sees potential such as better-for-you snacks, craft beer and wine, yogurt and granola, and specialty candy. The revamped food departments are still being conceptualized and should begin hitting stores next year.

To lead in that effort, Target has been searching for an outside executive since its previous grocery chief, Tim Mantel, left a few months ago.

"It was an empty hole, and we were waiting to see how they were going to fill it," said Amy Koo, an analyst with Kantar Retail.

Cornell, who has an extensive grocery background himself as a former executive at Sam's Club and PepsiCo, was personally involved in the search for a new executive. He worked with Dament several years ago when he was the chief marketing officer at Safeway, where she held several posts. She was most recently the vice president of services at PetSmart.

"Having previously worked alongside Anne, I know her industry expertise and proven ability to reinvigorate existing businesses make her the right leader to drive our reinvention," Cornell said in a statement.

Dament has an extensive background in groceries, beginning with her first job in high school as a cashier at the Kowalski's grocery store on Grand Avenue in St. Paul. She continued to work there while a student at the University of St. Thomas. She started her career as a buyer for Eden Prairie-based Supervalu Inc. before working at Safeway for more than a decade.

"I'm excited to return home to Minnesota and work alongside great leaders for such an iconic brand," she said in a statement.

Dament is one of a handful of new executives Cornell has hired since he arrived at Target in August. Another notable appointment came in February when he tapped Tesco executive Mike McNamara to be chief information officer. But analysts have noted that Cornell hasn't otherwise shaken up the ranks of top executives as often happens when new leaders come in.

"He didn't wholesale replace everyone," Koo said. "He needed to keep the ship running."

Instead, Cornell has focused on the bigger picture at Target and made two impactful decisions. Early this year, he decided to end the company's foray in Canada, closing 133 stores. Then, last month, he pared down the staff at Minneapolis headquarters by 1,700 employees, about 11 percent.

With international expansion off the table for the moment, Cornell has been looking for growth in the U.S. through online sales and smaller store formats such as CityTarget and TargetExpress. He has also launched the repositioning of Target's grocery department.

Six years ago, Target began adding an expanded grocery assortment to most of its stores after deciding not to turn all of them into full-blown SuperTargets. About 1,300 of its 1,800 stores now have that format. While the remodels initially helped spur additional sales, they have plateaued in recent years.

The potential payoff in a successful revamp of it groceries could be big. Executives have said that if a more appealing food department can drive a Target shopper to make just one more trip to the store every three months, that would mean an extra $2.5 billion in annual sales.