Northern Foods has suspended the boss of Holland's Pies amid speculation about a buyout.

Holland's Pies MD Neil Court-Johnston has been absent from the company's Baxenden office in Lancashire for two weeks. Robin Walker, Northern's convenience foods division MD, has temporarily assumed responsibility.

Court-Johnston has headed Holland's since 2008 but was thought to be suspended over claims he had been in talks with investors about buying the pie supplier from its parent company. Local media reports suggest Court-Johnston had permission to seek backers for the company and was suspended after Northern decided not to sell Holland's.

Court-Johnston was not available for comment.

Andrew Hanson, spokesman for Northern, said the company would not comment on matters relating to individual employees.

Prior to taking the helm at Holland's, Court-Johnston was Northern's commercial director of grocery ready meals. He joined the Goodfella's owner in 2005 as group customer director. Under his leadership, Holland's has seen sales rise to more than £30m, branched into vegetarian pies and, last December, gained nationwide availability.

This month, Northern announced flat sales over the past year, with a turnover up marginally from £975.2m to £977m.

However, it hailed a strong performance in its chilled food division, which includes Holland's, where "demand for fresh, healthy and convenience food" remained strong.