Ian York, group sales director of Premier Foods, is leaving the group at the end of the year to pursue “exciting new opportunities”.

After various jobs with Quaker Oats, Associated British Foods and Blue Crest, York, 52, has spent 17 years in sales roles at Premier, and worked with outgoing CEO Robert Schofield for the last 10 as it expanded to become the UK’s biggest food and drink manufacturer. But it was time to move on, he said.

“After 17 years, I will miss the place, but it was time for a change. I have a number of irons in the fire and am looking forward to pursuing some of the exciting opportunities that are opening up in the market. I expect to be able to confirm my plans within weeks but I felt it was important for [incoming CEO] Michael Clarke to have immediate clarity on my position as he looks to build his own team.”

York’s departure marks a changing of the guard within the senior ranks of Premier, with Schofield leaving next Thursday and group technical and innovation director Paul Kitchener’s untimely death (see p8).

Clarke, whose official start date is 3 September, joins from Kraft Foods, where he was president of its European operation. He also held senior positions with Reebok and Coca-Cola.

With Premier issuing a profits warning last month amid worsening sales, commodity price hikes, the recent loss of a major M&S pie contract at its Brookes Avana own-label arm and a trading ­dispute with Tesco for a number of months (The Grocer, 2 July, p5), Clarke has a tough challenge on his hands.

Clarke’s strong brand ­experience has been welcomed but experts have ­expressed concern over rumours he is seeking to refinance to ease a balance sheet hampered by significant debt and pension ­liabilities.

“Most potential investors don’t seem willing to get involved until they have heard new CEO Michael Clarke’s views. That is probably sensible,” said Panmure Gordon & Co analyst Graham Jones.