Second boss in seven months departs from organic grocer

Abel & Cole, the private-equity backed organic grocery delivery group, has parted company with its second chief executive in seven months.

Stephen Richards, who was chairman before taking the helm in 2009, left the online grocer last month following the departure of Duncan Gibson in June. The exit of Mr Richards, a former chief executive of the online florist Interflora, comes at a testing time for the organic sector, which has been hit by falling sales during the economic downturn.

Last July, the Food Standards Agency said organic food was no healthier than other produce, although at the time Abel & Cole said the report painted "an incomplete picture" and was not "indicative of the future of the organic market". It is believed Abel & Cole's sales have recently fallen marginally into negative territory. The firm's pre-tax profits fell 7 per cent to £1.5m, on sales up by 21 per cent to £33.7m for the year to 31 August 2008.

In 2007, Phoenix Equity Partners partnered with founder Keith Abel and existing managers to buy the grocer. Both Abel & Cole and Phoenix last night declined to comment.