Premier Foods sells 51% controlling stake to US investment firm

Struggling Hovis is to get £200 million of investment under a deal that will hand a major slice of the operation to an American firm.

Premier Foods, which has owned Hovis since March 2007, hopes the creation of a joint venture with private equity firm Gores Group will help to reinvigorate the Hovis business after a long period of disappointing sales.

Los Angeles-based Gores is paying £30 million for a 51 per cent controlling stake in the Hovis and Mothers Pride business, which has 4,000 staff at 10 bakeries and five flour mills.

The deal is expected to unlock £200 million in investment over the next five years, as well as enable Premier Foods to focus on its other brands such as Mr Kipling and Bisto.

Hovis was the first to advertise on British television in 1956 and went on to launch one of the most famous TV ads of all time in 1973 with the “Boy on the bike” directed by Ridley Scott and featuring the music from Dvorak’s Symphony No 9. The business was previously owned by Rank Hovis.

St Albans-based Premier, which has debts of around £900 million following a spending spree that included Mr Kipling, has sold a number of businesses in recent months, including Sarson’s vinegar and Haywards pickles.

It has been overhauling its bread division with the closure of three bakeries in Eastleigh, Greenford in west London and Birmingham, while also shutting distribution centres in Greenford, Birmingham, Mendlesham and Plymouth with the loss of 900 jobs.

Premier Foods chief executive Gavin Darby said: “I’m delighted that we’ve found a strong partner in the Gores Group who will help provide the investment necessary to develop the bread business.

“This will be good for our customers, our employees and all those connected with the business.”

The two companies have committed not to sell their stakes in the joint venture for at least three years following completion of the deal, which is still subject to shareholder approval.

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