New talent continues makeover for Premier

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Changes at the top of the UK's biggest food manufacturer, Premier Foods, continue apace as Ian Deste, formerly with Coca-Cola Enterprises, has been appointed group sales director. Deste replaces Ian York, who is to leave at the end of the year.

The news follows the announcement that Michael Clarke, who is to replace Premier's chief executive Robert Schofield, was coming on board earlier than had originally been planned. Clarke began working with the company on August 16. Schofield is expected to leave after a short handover period.

The departure of York, who has been at the company for 17 years, will be a further sign to City analysts, who have been scathing in their criticism of Premier's leadership over the past few years, that the "old guard" will soon be a thing of the past.

Premier watchers hope that the arrival of Clarke, who is currently president of Kraft Foods Europe, will spark a revival in the fortunes of this manufacturer of well-known legacy brands. But they are under no illusions that Premier faces anything other than an uphill task, given the problems it has been experiencing, which have resulted in its share price plummeting. Much will hinge on the company being successful during this year's all-important Christmas trading period.

Some analysts suggest the company could be in need of a cash injection. Many others argue that Premier Foods needs to dispose of its troubled own-label chilled foods and cakes businesses RF Brookes and Avana Bakeries. The fact that a buyer has not yet been found could be a sign of the food industry's low perception of the business.

In its half-year results Premier reported that Brookes Avana's Leicester plant had suffered a £11M profit slump following the loss of a Marks & Spencer own-label pie contract that was worth £32M to competitor Samworth Brothers.

Sadly, Premier was also hit last month by the death of its group technical and innovation director Paul Kitchener after a long illness.

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