Premier Foods chief defends 'phantom takeover' rejections


The chief executive of Premier Foods has defended the company's decision to reject three takeover offers from McCormick, describing the US food giant's attempts as "phantom".

Gavin Darby, who has come under fire from shareholders over the move, said that despite having full access to Premier's accounts, a firm bid for the Mr Kipling maker never materialised.

He told the Press Association: "The majority of shareholders recognise that there never was a bid from McCormick, it was a phantom bid. They recognise the difference between an indicative offer and a real offer.

"They had full access to the business and still didn't come up with a firm offer. Not all shareholders accept that, but most do."

Shareholders in Premier, which is also behind Ambrosia custard, have previously vented their anger at Mr Darby for rejecting McCormick's indicative offers, which valued the company at a 90% premium to its share price.

Instead of tying up with McCormick, Premier announced a collaboration agreement with Japanese firm Nissin, which now holds a 19.9% stake in the company. Nissin's managing director, Tsunao Kijima, has also been appointed to Premier's board as a non-executive director.

Mr Darby's comments come alongside full year results, which saw Premier's pre-tax profit grow 3.5% to £86.1 million while sales grew 0.6% to £771 million. Sales in the fourth quarter were up 1.4%.

Revenue is forecast to grow 2% to 4% this year and the firm reduced its debt by £50 million to £534.2 million.

Mr Darby said the firm will start paying a dividend again in a "couple of years", when net debt is reduced further.

"The focus is now on growth, our first meeting with Nissin is this week. Nissin wants to see its products in UK supermarkets and we want to grow internationally, and Nissin has a big presence in the US and China, so the collaboration makes sense," Mr Darby added.

Nissin would have to build its stake to 29.9% to trigger a full takeover, but Mr Darby said that he feels "they are comfortable as a strategic investor".