New executive to hasten Premier shake-up

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The Independent Online

Premier Foods appointed a new top executive and split its grocery and bread arms yesterday as it tries to speed up a shake-up of its businesses.

Geoff Eaton, formerly chief executive of the chilled foods group Uniq, is to become chief operating officer with a brief to help see that the two arms are run as separate concerns. That reflects the feeling that the grocery arm is faring well, while bread – it owns the Hovis brand – has lately struggled.

The statement said a more "fundamental approach will be taken to help unlock future value" from bread, though advisers insist this does not mean a sale.

Premier, built into a sprawling concern on the back of debt, is slimming down apace. It is focusing on eight "power brands", which include Hovis, Ambrosia, Mr Kipling and Sharwood's. The share price edged up 0.5p to 65p.

Investec said: "We think Mr Eaton brings relevant skills to bear and welcome the enhanced focus on bread. But the apparent penchant for role proliferation in a cost-constrained environment is a concern." It added: "Geoff Eaton brings a useful and relevant skill set. As CEO of Uniq, he presided over the piecemeal break-up and eventual disposal of the group to Greencore. He was also central to their pension restructuring."