Greencore CEO Patrick Coveney

Patrick Coveney has been in charge at Greencore since 2008, following two years previously as CFO

Greencore CEO Patrick Coveney is to leave the food-to-go specialist to take the reins at SSP Group.

Coveney, who has been boss at Greencore since 2008, will resign from his position on 30 March 2022 to take charge of the Upper Crust and Caffè Ritazza operator as it continues a recovery battle after being hammered throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Greencore has kicked off an immediate process to appoint his successor.

“I am absolutely delighted to be appointed as SSP’s next group CEO as it builds back from the pandemic,” Coveney said.

“The business has a strong board, a highly experienced leadership team and thousands of dedicated colleagues across the world. It also has a clear strategy, deep relationships with client and brand partners, and a robust balance sheet.

“I look forward to working with the teams to seize the many opportunities that lie ahead and to delivering future growth and returns for SSP and its shareholders.”

Greencore chief commercial officer Kevin Moore will take on the role of deputy CEO with immediate effect, while non-executive chairman Gary Kennedy will take a more active role in the business before becoming executive chairman once Coveney leaves next year.

Coveney, who was also CFO at Greencore for two years leading up to his promotion to CEO, will continue to lead the executive team until his resignation in March.

Kennedy said: “On behalf of the board, I would like to express our deep gratitude to Patrick for leading the business for the past 14 years and for transforming Greencore into the UK’s leading convenience food business.

“We wish him well in the future.”

SSP had been searching for a new chief since the surprise resignation of Simon Smith in July to take up a job at an unnamed private equity firm planning an IPO.

The group, which operates sites in airports, train stations and motorway service stations, revealed a £300m pre-tax loss in the six months to 31 March 2021 as lockdown restrictions and forced closures hit revenues.

More than 70% was wiped off SSP’s share price by the pandemic. Despite making a partial recovery to 256p, it still remains way off its pre-Covid value of about 560p.

SSP said that under Coveney’s leadership, Greencore had transformed into an international leader in food-to-go.

“He delivered a strong track record of growth, combining organic and strategic expansion, forging deep, long-term partnerships with Greencore’s customers across the UK, US and Europe,” a statement to the London Stock Exchange added.

“Patrick has also been instrumental in driving significant cultural change, building capability, developing people, and embedding sustainability into Greencore’s strategy.”

Chairman Mike Clasper said: “We are pleased to announce the appointment of Patrick who will join us as we emerge from the pandemic with considerable momentum. Patrick is a strong and strategic leader, combining this with proven financial and operational experience in some of the most competitive categories in the food sector.

“His customer and colleague focus make him ideally placed to lead SSP to future success. Patrick will be well supported by Jonathan Davies, who, together with the executive committee and board, will ensure we complete a smooth transition.”

Jonathan Davies, in his role as deputy CEO and CFO, will continue to lead the group executive committee and oversee day-to-day business prior to Coveney joining.

The news emerged after the London exchange closed for the day at 4pm and has not yet had an effect on the share prices of Greencore and SSP Group.