Wholesalers' leader Francis Ball has emerged as a champion of the private equity firms currently eyeing up vast chunks of the UK food and drink industry.

Ball, chairman of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, said the contribution to the economy made by private equity firms "justifies their involvement in large-scale acquisitions".

"The massive pool of funds available, coupled with the considerable business expertise behind that pool, must be positively encouraged to engage with British business at all levels," he said.

"This will stimulate innovation, speed up the process of pruning out dead wood, and increase the metabolism of business development."

The private equity sector has a huge amount of money invested in Ball's sector, with Brakes, 3663 First For Foodservice and Wood-ward Foodservice owned by private equity firms.

Ball made his comments to recruitment consultancy Directorbank, which canvassed 100 top decision-makers in business on the subject of private equity.Many business leaders warned private equity firms needed to work harder on improving their poor public image. This was illustrated by the backlash against CVC and its failed bid for Sainsbury's last month.

Paul Hick, chair of Maxi-muscle, told Directorbank: "Until the industry develops good PR as a core

competency, perceptions are unlikely to change."