The Olive Garden post had been vacant since last May, when then marketing executive Drew Madsen was named Olive Garden president. Mr. Madsen had been handling both roles for the 20-year casual dining Italian chain.
Mr. Caron, 45, was vice president and general manager for Unilever Best Foods North America.
A 17-year veteran at Unilever, Mr. Caron most recently was in charge of the Lipton beverages unit, where in 2001 he retired the century-old Sir Thomas icon in order to refresh the brand. Mr. Caron also led the U.S. sauces group as senior marketing director on Ragu, and the margarine and spreads portfolio in Germany and Canada.
"John's strong brand-building and general management background, especially in food businesses, makes him the ideal choice to lead Olive Garden's marketing efforts," Mr. Madsen said in a statement.
Olive Garden spent $82.2 million in measured media in 2002, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR. Grey Global Group's Grey Worldwide, New York, handles Olive Garden's advertising.