There was renewed speculation that Northern Foods could exit the stock exchange as The Grocer went to press as shares plunged to new lows following the departure of chief executive Jo Stewart.

Shares at the Fox’s biscuit to Goodfella’s pizza company fell 20p to 140p as the company warned first-half profit would be "significantly lower than last year” blaming the hot summer, soaring raw material costs and the loss of contracts in convenience foods.

“The private equity guys will definitely be having another look,” said one analyst. In the meantime, he said, the company needed to “ruthlessly cut costs” and get rid of non-core businesses such as Paynes, Dalepak and chilled distribution arm NFT.

Chairman Peter Blackburn, who becomes executive chairman until a replacement is found for Stewart, said the priority was pushing through raw material price rises, and cutting costs through centralising more functions such as procurement. The company was reviewing its portfolio but “we will not be a forced seller of assets”.

>>p18 Northern Foods chief quits