Northern Foods' sale of Dalepak Frozen Foods this week marks the start of a wave of disposals of non-core operations by large suppliers, say experts.

City analysts said the trend would pick up pace over the next 18 months as major UK manufacturers come under pressure to cut their cost base.

Northern offloaded Dalepak to the Irish Food Processors Group in a cash deal worth £6.4m. The Yorkshire company made a "marginal loss" on sales of £23m in the year to 3 April.

As rising raw material prices and the squeeze from multiples pile pressure on producers, private equity houses would be waiting in the wings to pick up assets, said Livingstone Partners' Patrick Groarke.

"Two years ago we thought there would be a lot of divestments from the larger plcs but it didn't materialise," he said. "There weren't trade buyers ready to pay attractive prices and private equity buyers, who might have traditionally been a good home, weren't performing well and were quite inwardly focused. They are coming out of that now and there is a huge amount of money that must find a home in the next 18 months."

Companies needing to raise cash would sell peripheral businesses as a ­priority, said another M&A expert, who also noted a definite pick-up in dealflow. Last week, Premier Foods said it was "open-minded" about the disposal of assets to pay down a £1.37bn debt built up mainly through acquisitions.