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    Safeway Invades England with Gift Card Subsidiary

    PLEASANTON, Calif. -- Safeway Inc. gift card subsidiary Blackhawk Network is apparently so successful that Safeway is now exporting the business to the United Kingdom, representing its first expansion outside of North America.

    PLEASANTON, Calif. -- Safeway Inc. gift card subsidiary Blackhawk Network is apparently so successful that Safeway is now exporting the business to the United Kingdom, representing its first expansion outside of North America.

    Blackhawk Network, established as a separate business unit in 2001 to capitalize on store traffic at Safeway and other retailers, and is now the largest provider of third-party gift cards in the United States and Canada. Safeway said yesterday it is expanding to the United Kingdom this year with the opening of an office Peterborough, England.

    "The gift card program has become a very important feature in our stores and is the fastest-growing category in the store," said Safeway chairman, president, and c.e.o. Steve Burd, of the successful subsidiary.

    Blackhawk provides a turnkey gift card solution to a network of North American grocery, drug, and convenience store retailers, with a gift card offering of more than 100 brands from best-in-class retailers such as Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Best Buy, iTunes Music Store, Pizza Hut, Starbucks Coffee, The Home Depot, and Sears. It also distributes prepaid debit and gift cards from American Express, MasterCard, Visa, and offers regional sports and entertainment gift cards for a range of venues and teams such as Universal Theme Parks, Paramount's Great America, the Oakland A's, the San Francisco Giants, the Seattle Mariners, and the Chicago White Sox.

    The new Peterborough office will be run by Russell Atkinson, managing director of Blackhawk Network, UK. Atkinson was formerly Director of ePayments for Travelex and is the current chairman of the UK Electronic Money Association, the main trade body for prepaid products in the United Kingdom. Previously, he also held senior sales and marketing positions with Scholl, Johnson & Johnson, and Brita.

    Safeway operates 1,770 stores in the United States and Canada, and had annual sales of $38.4 billion in 2005.

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