Premier Foods' new boss loses appetite for sell-offs

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The Independent Online

The new boss at Oxo-to-Bisto maker Premier Foods has signalled an end to the raft of sell-offs seen in recent years as the debt-laden company struggled to get back on to its feet.

Premier racked up £369.5m from disposals last year as it worked to bring down a £1.3bn debt pile built up before the financial crisis. Brands sold off in the past two years include Sarson's vinegar, Branston pickle and the meat substitute Quorn, which has since seen a recent boost in sales thanks to the beef scandal. The disposals led to speculation that Hovis could also be sold off.

But Gavin Darby, who has been in the chief executive's chair for 14 days following the abrupt departure of his predecessor Michael Clarke, says selling businesses is not at the top of his agenda.

He added: "I don't see disposals as my main focus. For the past two years, it has been very much so but I've been hired to grow the business, I don't see it as on my A list or even B list [of priorities]."

Premier is still looking to pump at least £40m more into "power" brands such as Loyd Grossman, Mr Kipling and Ambrosia despite much tougher trading for Hovis, where the worst harvests for 35 years forced it to look abroad for nearly a third of its wheat.

The shares added 5p to 94.75p as – stripping out disposals and other one-offs — trading profits grew by 10.6 per cent to £123.4m last year.