The chief executive of Symington's today (8 August) called the company's acquisition of cooking sauce brands Chicken Tonight and Ragu a "significant step" for the privately-owned UK food group.

Symington's has bought the UK and Irish rights to the brands from Unilever and, although, financial details were not disclosed, the company said it was its largest-ever acquisition.

David Salkeld, Symington's chief executive, said: "The Unilever acquisition is a significant step for our business and we are delighted to have completed the deal."

Ragu was the first pasta sauce brand launched in the UK in 1988 and a memorable advertising campaign made Chicken Tonight a household brand in the country. However, Symington's acknowledged that a "shift in strategy" at Unilever, combined with "less focus and support", had meant both brands had "been in decline over the last few years".

Nevertheless, Salkeld said Symington's had a "proven track record" of taking on what he called "heritage brands" and "rejuvenating them".

Salkeld pointed to Symington's moves to re-introduce Golden Wonder into the pot noodle category in the UK in 2009 and launch a range or products under the Campbell's brand this year.

"Both Campbell's and Golden Wonder had latent value that we breathed new life into in 2011 and 2009 respectively," Salkeld said. "Golden Wonder: The Nation's Noodle now enjoys GBP10m worth of sales every year and the Campbell’s range is rapidly moving ahead of this."

Symington's plans to change the recipe for Ragu, add products to the Chicken Tonight range and introduce new packaging for both brands.

Marketing director Henrik Pade added: "Within the next year we'll see big changes to the brands. Our aim is to redevelop the ranges to ensure that they are real alternatives to the market leaders in the cooking sauce category; we want them to perform as challenger brands."