Clarke (pictured) will take over on Tuesday 16 August 2011, ahead of his previous start date of September 1. Current incumbent Robert Schofield will then leave following a short handover period.
Premier has also confirmed that group sales director Ian York will leave the company by the end of this year.
While they welcomed the news of Clarke's early arrival, City analysts agreed that he faced real challenges in turning the company around.
Consumer goods analyst Martin Deboo from Investec said in a note today that, while Premier was unlikely to go bust, its shares were effectively “un-investable in the current climate.”
‘Bleeding’ Brookes Avana
Clarke needed to take some decisive early steps, Deboo said. The two priorities were to decide whether Premier needed an injection of fresh equity and to find a solution to the “bleeding” Brookes Avana business.
Panmure Gordon executive director of equity research, Graham Jones, said:“The sooner the new ceo gets his feet under the table the better, Premier has multiple problems that he can start to address and put it back on an even keel.”
Jones added that with its mature brand portfolio “Premier should be a dull company.” He hoped that Clarke could make it so, by tackling two key issues: Brand management and customer relationships.
He said “Premier has done the right thing with this appointment, as Mike Clarke has suitable experience in branded manufacturing. But he hasn’t got a magic wand and it will take some time.”
Manage and grow brands
News of the appointment update follows a trading statement on August 5, which wiped nearly 20% of Premier Foods’ share price. Operating profits in the six months to June 25 fell to £42m from £63m a year earlier.
Premier announced this April that it was looking for a successor to Schofield, a process which it said might take up to 12 months.
Clarke is currently president of Kraft Foods Europe, which includes the UK Cadbury business. His successor at Kraft, Tim Cofer, had always been scheduled to take over his position there in mid-August.
Premier chairman Ronnie Bell said: "We are delighted that Mike is able to join Premier Foods two weeks earlier than originally envisaged. I know that he is eager to get into the business and start work and we look forward to his arrival.
“Mike's great skill in managing and growing brands is a critical strength to a business like ours, particularly given the challenges of the current trading environment."