Bury St Edmunds/ Mendlesham: Premier Foods boss issues ‘buy British’ plea to support recovery

THE boss of the UK’s biggest food producer today called for Britons to support the economic recovery by buying British brands.

Michael Clarke, chief executive of Premier Foods, which has a major presence in East Anglia, said the Queen’s Diamond jubilee and London Olympics should be celebrated by supporting British jobs and buying products made in the UK.

Premier, which owns brands including Hovis, Mr Kipling, Batchelors, Bisto, Ambrosia and Loyd Grossman, sources 80% of its ingredients from Britain and plans new Mr Kipling British Fancies and Mini Classics ranges to build on this theme.

South African-born Mr Clarke made his comments as Premier unveiled a 3.7% rise in sales of its eight leading brands, which also include Oxo and Sharwoods, in the three months to March 31, and a 1.3% rise in total group sales.

Mr Clarke said that during time working for Reebok in Asia he was “amazed” by how nationalistic people became during a period of financial crisis.

“I’m surprised (British) people are not as nationalistic as they could be to protect jobs,” he said. “If you look at our competitors they ship from overseas. That’s fine. But I’m going to continue to bang this drum.”

And he added: “We should support British jobs, British supply chains and British farmers, as oppose to celebrating an event but you’re out of a job because products come outside of the UK.”

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Mr Clarke said the only ingredients and resources Premier bought from outside the UK were fuel, sugar and cocoa.

St Albans-based Premier’s presence in the East of England includes a factory in Bury St Edmunds producing Branston Pickle, Haywards pickled onions and Loyd Grossman cooking sauces and a Hovis distribution depot at Mendlesham, near Stowmarket,

The group’s focus on its eight “power” brands drove market share gains for the products for the first time in 12 months, Premier said.

Support brands – all branded products outside the power eight, such as Branston Pickle and Homepride sauces – saw sales fall 0.5%.

Branded grocery products did well in the quarter, driven by strong sales of Sharwood’s new Wrap Kits and the Batchelors Fuelling Britain promotion, in which consumers can win free fuel for a year. The Hovis bread business saw a 3.1% increase in sales, driven in particular by non-branded products.

Premier was pushed to a full-year loss in 2011 by a dismal performance in its bread division, which saw trading profits slump 90.4% last year, leading it to slash the value of the bread arm by �282million.

Premier last month landed a crucial deal to renew more than �1billion of loans with its banks, including part-nationalised lenders Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland, which will see its repayment deadline extended from December 2013 to June 2016.

Martin Deboo, analyst at brokers Investec, described today’s update as reassuring, with a return to positive sales growth and trading in line with expectations.