James A. Rowland, who went to work for Safeway Stores Inc., at age 14 as a chicken plucker and egg candler, will become president of the world's largest food marketing chain in August, stockholders learned at their annual meeting here today.

Chairman and chief executive officer Peter A. Magowan told the gathering that Rowland, senior vice president for retail operations since 1977, will succeed Dale L. Lynch, whose resignation also was announced yesterday. Lynch said he intends to give up the presidency, by his own choice, on his 62nd birthday in August, but will continue with Safeway until the end of the year.

The selection of Rowland, 59, who went to work at a Little Rock Safeway store when he was a junior high school student in 1938, continues a Safeway tradition of promoting from within. Lynch began with the firm 41 years ago as a meat cutter in Los Angeles.

Rowland has been with Safeway continuously except for three years spent in the Marine Corps during World War II. He said he had decided to make Safeway "my life" even before he got his first job--citing that as a career goal in response to a junior high school assignment.

"I began at 25 cents an hour, candling eggs and plucking chickens. That was in a day when a customer ordered a chicken, you'd go to the rear of the meat department and kill the bird and pluck it," he recalled. Egg candlers checked eggs against the light of a candle for freshness.

Rowland moved from chicken plucking to a food clerk's job, and then worked his way up through the management chain, with assignments taking him around the Midwest and Far West until he moved to corporate headquarters in Oakland, Calif., in 1976.

Through it all, he said, he never forgot the advice his father, a union carpenter, gave him as a recipe for success. A key suggestion was to get to work early. Rowland still makes it a practice to "have my feet under the desk by 6:15 every morning."

The Rowland chemistry apparently appealed to Safeway. At one time, all five Rowland brothers were Safeway employes and three of the five remain with the company.

Lynch said he plans to devote part of his retirement time to teaching at the University of Southern California.

"I've served six years as president," Lynch said, "and the company has changed from very conservative to innovative . . . We have left our isolation. It cost us very dearly."

Magowan's report to stockholders touched on a similar theme. He said that innovation and tightened financial management had helped Safeway to achieve a second successive year of earnings "resurgence" in 1982, with current-year prospects remaining bright.

Safeway sales last year were $17.6 billion, up 6.3 percent, with earnings of $159.7 million ($3.06 per share), a 48 percent increase. Real sales, tonnage and customer count all increased during the year, Magowan reported.

"We are cautiously optimistic that 1983 will be another good year for Safeway," he said. "I would underscore cautiously. Many difficult labor negotiations lie ahead of us. Contracts covering more than half of our unionized employes expire in 1983, and most of these will be renegotiated during the final three quarters of the year."

Magowan also announced that Safeway has been named as a sponsor of the 1984 U.S. Olympic team. In return for contributing food and money to help feed and house U.S. athletes, the company will be allowed to use the Olympic emblem on its food products, which Magowan said "will give us a chance to increase sales and enhance our image."