The UK’s Takeover Panel has issued Boparan Holdings with a deadline to bid for Fox‘s biscuits and Goodfella’s pizza maker Northern Foods.

In November, Northern announced plans to merge with Irish food group Greencore and create a new company, Essenta Foods. Shareholders in both firms are set to vote on the plans this month.

However, two weeks ago, UK poultry and fish group Boparan Holdings, owned by food tycoon and Northern shareholder Ranjit Boparan, said it was mulling whether to launch a takeover bid for Northern.

Boparan Holdings had confirmed that it was “at a preliminary stage” in evaluating a possible cash offer for Northern, the firm said there was “no certainty” that it would result in an offer being made for the company.

Today, the Takeover Panel moved to inject some clarity into the situation and set a deadline for Boparan Holdings to table a bid. The panel insisted that, by 21 January, Boparan either announces “a firm intention to make an offer” for Northern, including terms of the deal, or confirm that it does not intend to make an offer.

Northern welcomed the panel’s move and said it continues to recommend shareholders vote in favour of its proposed merger with Greencore at a meeting on 31 January.

“The board continues to believe that the proposed merger with Greencore Group to form Essenta Foods offers substantial benefits for its shareholders, customers and employees and will create a convenience foods business with a strong platform for further growth and the potential to realise significant cost savings through synergies,” it said.