The managing director of Abel & Cole has left the private equity-backed organic food home delivery specialist, which said that recent trading had been "difficult".
Duncan Gibson has been replaced by Stephen Richards, Abel & Cole's former executive chairman who is now its chief executive. It is unclear if Mr Gibson, who had been at the grocer for three years, had another job to go to.
His departure comes amid turmoil in the organic food market, which has been hit by customers switching to cheaper produce during the recession. The UK subsidiary of Whole Foods Market, the US grocery giant, made a pre-tax loss of £36m last year after its disastrous opening of a huge store in central London in June 2007. Last month, a Food Standards Agency (FSA) study found that organic food was no healthier than other produce.
An Abel & Cole spokeswoman said: "Trading has been difficult, but is picking up." She added: "The FSA report is an incomplete picture, so although it is not helpful it is by no means indicative of the future of the organic market." For the year to 31 August 2008, Abel & Cole's pre-tax profits fell by 7 per cent to £1.51m on sales up by 21 per cent to £33.7m. In 2007, Phoenix Equity Partners partnered with the company's founder, Keith Abel, and existing management team to complete the acquisition of the online grocer.