Former Aldi UK MD Paul Foley is making a sensational return to Iceland Foods to head up its international expansion, while CEO Malcolm Walker has freed up cash and streamlined Iceland’s UK operations by offloading the Cooltrader chain to Heron Foods.

Foley, who left Iceland for Aldi in 1989, will join Iceland’s operating board to take up a new role as international business director, with a brief to “identify and exploit new opportunities to grow the Iceland brand throughout the world”.

Foley will be responsible for franchising, overseas store openings such as Iceland’s new store in the Czech Republic, and Iceland’s ITEX export business. He will be based at the ITEX office in Vienna and will report directly to Walker.

Foley has already begun working with Iceland on a part-time basis while he continues to fulfil his remaining consultancy commitments before joining full-time in January 2013.

“I am greatly looking forward to joining the dynamic team at Iceland,” said Foley. “The strength of the business’s performance in recent years is a testament to the strength of the brand, the often underrated quality of Iceland products and the quite remarkable business culture that gives Iceland such a very special feeling as a place to work.”

Walker said: “I was very sorry to lose Paul in 1989. It has not been easy to persuade him to come back and work for us, and I am absolutely delighted that he has agreed to do so. His exceptional track record and skill set make him the ideal person to lead Iceland’s development outside the UK, whether through exports, franchising, acquisitions or store openings. The global potential of the Iceland brand is huge and I am very excited by the many opportunities that Paul’s appointment will help to open up.”

Iceland opened a new store in the Czech Republic in February. It also opened a franchise operation in Iceland a fortnight ago and has 13 existing franchises in the Canary Islands, mainland Spain and Portugal. It also has eight in the Republic of Ireland and is looking at opportunities in South Africa. Meanwhile, ITEX exports Iceland products to more than 100 retail outlets in 34 countries worldwide.

Foley worked as a regional manager for Iceland for 12 years until 1989 when he left to join Aldi as sales director.

He served as Aldi’s UK and Ireland managing director for five years before his unexpected departure in 2009.

Iceland recorded a seventh consecutive year of record pre-tax profits of £184.3m in June. It has 760 UK stores. Last month Walker told The Grocer there is room for another 300.