Warburtons has hired Nestlé UK head of chocolate Mark Simester as its new marketing director. Simester will cross the Pennines from the York home of the Nestlé chocolate business to take up his role at Warburtons headquarters in Bolton on 1 October.

Simester hails from the region, a factor that Warburtons chairman Jonathan Warburton said would help him settle in.

“He’ll fit in well. He is from the North West and truly understands the brand, having grown up with it,” said Warburton.

Simester has been in his current role heading up the £400m-turnover operation for almost two years, having previously worked as marketing manager for Nestlé’s Kit Kat brand.

As Warburtons diversifies away from its core bread business and breaks into new categories such as snacks, Simester will draw on his experience working in the more impulse-driven chocolate category.

“The category he’s been working in has given him a great understanding of how to connect with consumers,” said Warburton, adding that Simester’s knowledge of digital and social networks would be invaluable. “Nestlé is much farther down the road in digital.”

Simester will replace Richard Hayes, who left in January after five years as marketing director.

Warburtons is also on the lookout for a new managing director after Robert Higginson left the business just months after Hayes. The search is ongoing and expected to take some time.

“We are actively looking, but it is very, very early days,” said Warburton.

In the meantime, he has stepped in to lead the business, supported by executive directors Ross and Brett Warburton.

In June, accounts filed at Companies House revealed that pre-tax profits had dropped 37% to £16.3m in the year to 24 September 2011.