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Premier boss Michael Clarke backed by city

By Dan Colombini , 16-Jan-2012
Last updated on 16-Jan-2012 at 14:54 GMT

Premier Foods boss Michael Clarke has received a resounding vote of confidence from city analysts, six months into his role, as he continues his plan to guide the firm out of trouble.

Clarke assumed the position of md at Premier in August last year and has since battled soaring debt, introduced management restructuring and a botulism outbreak.

Experts have backed Clarke in his actions so far and praised his swift response to Premier’s woes.

Martin Deboo, analyst at Investec told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “I think he’s done pretty well. He has carried himself very well and quickly put a plan in place to deal with some serious issues.

“He has dealt very well with a catastrophic hygiene scare, prioritised the necessary disposals and put in place his Power Brand Plan.

Shrewd move

Clarke’s decision to restructure the management team was also a shrewd move, according to Deboo.

He added: “He has a new management team in place and they look like the men for the job. But only time will tell.

Since taking the reins at Premier, Clarke has overseen the sale of its Brookes Avana business to Ranjit Boparan’s 2 Sisters Food Group in a £30M deal.

This was followed by the sale of the firm’s Irish brands Chivers, Gateaux, McDonnells and the Erin Licence, to the Boyne Valley Group for £34.7M a week later.

The firm’s spreads business, which includes brands such as Hartley’s jam, has also been widely touted as the next disposal under Clarke after FoodManufacture.co.uk reported it was up for sale on Wednesday (January 10).

Credit

As well as confirming that the spreads division was “going through a sales process”, Julian Wild, food group director at law firm Rollits, described the disposals already made under Clarke as “quite an achievement”.

He told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “I do think the chief executive has managed to get a lot right and deserves a lot of credit.

“Sales of the Brookes Avana and the Irish brands is quite an achievement and he has done some significant tidying up.”

When asked for a comment on his tenure so far, Premier sent a statement from Clarke which appeared in the firm’s last trading update.

He said: “I've covered a lot of ground during my first weeks with Premier Foods and am convinced that there are substantial opportunities here but there are also significant challenges that we have to overcome. We have brands that consumers like and talented, passionate people who are determined to turn the business around.

"While the current trading performance continues to be disappointing and significantly behind our expectations, we have already identified a number of steps to build a more profitable business. These include focusing on eight 'Power Brands', strengthening our sales and marketing execution and reducing our cost structure.

The firm’s immediate priority was to conclude discussions with the banks, revise its banking covenants and put in place refinancing facilities, added Clarke.

This process is well underway and we are hoping to reach a successful conclusion in due course.”

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