Gavin Darby, the former chief executive of Premier Foods, one of the UK’s largest food companies, has joined fruit business Orchard House Food as chairman.

Orchard House, based in Corby, in the east English Midlands county of Northamptonshire, has recently come under new ownership, after UK-headquartered private-equity firm Elaghmore Partners acquired the fruit, fruit drinks and desserts business from US food group Hain Celestial, a deal only announced in January.

Darby departed from London-listed Premier in January 2019 having led the Batchelors soups and Mr. Kipling cakes owner for six years. He has most-recently been serving as chairman of The Felix Project, a London-based charity fighting hunger and food waste. Before he joined Premier in 2013, Darby’s previous career history included stints at US beverages giant Coca-Cola and UK telecommunications business Vodafone plc.

Orchard House supplies food-to-go outlets such as Pret A Manger, foodservice establishments and manufacturers, and also counts three of the UK’s ‘big four’ supermarkets as customers – Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons, as well as Marks and Spencer.

Darby, who took up the position on 1 March, said in a statement: “As we look beyond Covid-19 and Brexit, I see exciting opportunities for the business, particularly in developing and expanding Orchard House’s on-the-go fruit and beverage range. We will continuously strive to offer our customers the best service and quality with investment in people, technology, and processes.”

The UK food-to-go market is experiencing challenging times with the country still in lockdown and with many people continuing to work from home. Hain Celestial said when it announced the disposal that the business had been “negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic”.

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Andy Ducker, a co-founder of Elaghmore, added: “We see the appointment of Gavin as a significant step in our growth plans for Orchard House. He has a wealth of industry knowledge and experience that makes him the ideal person to lead the business forward and extend Orchard House’s position as a market leader.”

As well as its headquarters and plant in Corby, Orchard House also has “additional facilities” in Gateshead, a town in north-east England, employing around 1,000 workers across the business. The company said it “utilises a global supply chain, sourcing and preparing a range of exotic fresh fruits from across the world”.