Stock Spirits Group CEO Chris Heath has bowed to shareholder pressure and announced he is stepping down from the helm of the listed drinks business with immediate effect.

Heath has faced numerous calls from the group’s largest shareholder Western Gate Private Investments to stand down. Western Gate, an investment vehicle with an almost 10% stake in Stock and run by Portuguese businessman Luis Amaral, expressed worries about the strategy to halt the decline in the Polish market. Amaral also called for the appointment of two new non-executive directors as well as a replacement for Heath as CEO.

Independent non-executive Miroslaw ‘Mirek’ Stachowicz, who has been with Stock since November 2015, will serve as interim CEO until a replacement is found.

Stock, which operates across Central and Eastern Europe and is listed on the London Stock Exchange, has struggled in recent years with a significant loss of market share in Poland, its largest market, as a result of increased competition and weak demand as consumers buy cheaper vodka brands from supermarket chains.

The group’s share price has more than halved since early 2014 as a result. After slumping when the markets opened this morning, the group’s stock is currently up 0.8% to 154.5p.

Chairman David Maloney said: “The board and nomination committee have been discussing executive succession plans for several months and I appointed an international search firm in early February this year to help identify a new CEO. I also discussed this directly with Chris.

“Our plan was to ensure that we had a new Polish managing director in place before initiating any other changes to avoid further uncertainty. We were delighted to announce the appointment of Marek Sypek as managing director, Poland last week

“But Western Gate’s actions have clearly interrupted our careful planning and so we decided to accelerate the CEO process.”

Heath, who joined Stock Spirits in 2007 as CFO and has been CEO for seven years, said he wished the company “every success” and that he was looking forward to spending more time with family and friends.

“Stock Spirits is a great company with excellent brands and some extremely talented people who I have been privileged to work with. I have thoroughly enjoyed my eight years with the company and seeing it grow into the established, publicly listed business it is today. We created some amazing award winning brands, supported by world-class production facilities and an outstanding distribution network.

“The board and I have been reviewing group succession plans for some time and we felt that now was the right time for a change of leadership. I am now very much looking forward to spending more time with my family and friends and wish the company every success going forward.”

Stock has criticised the behaviour of Western Gate over the past month and pointed out that Amaral also owns a majority stake in cash & carry business Eurocash, which is one of Stock Spirits’ biggest customers in Poland. The drinks group said the “conflict of interest” meant Western Gate’s interests were not aligned with that of Stock minority shareholders.