Boparan Holdings, the UK poultry and fish supplier, has been given more time to declare whether it will bid for Northern Foods.

A statement issued by the UK’s Takeover Panel this afternoon (21 January) said it had extended the deadline from the initial 5pm by two hours.

Boparan, owned by food tycoon and Northern shareholder Ranjit Boparan, has until 7pm to bid for Northern, which is planning to merge with Ireland’s Greencore, or walk away.

Earlier today, it was reported by The Daily Telegraph that Mr Boparan had secured an agreement with Northern’s pension trustees, seen as key to whether the entrepreneur would proceed with a bid.

Under their merger plans, Northern and Greencore had said the combined business would pay GBP15m a year to reduce the UK group’s GBP142m pension deficit.

“Following representations made by the advisors to Northern Foods, and having consulted with the advisors to Boparan, the Panel executive has ruled that the deadline by which Boparan must either announce a firm intention to make an offer for Northern Foods under Rule 2.5 of the Code, or announce that it does not intend to make an offer for Northern Foods, should be extended to 7pm,” the Takeover Panel said. “No further extension to this deadline will be granted, except with the consent of the Panel executive”.

Northern and Greencore announced their plans to merge in November but since then rumours have grown that Mr Boparan, who has built a 6.6% stake in the Goodfella’s pizza and Fox’s biscuits maker, would launch a takeover bid for the UK firm.

Boparan Holdings said before Christmas that it was mulling a bid and, on 4 January, the Takeover Panel said the group would have to table an offer before 5pm today.

Reports have claimed that Mr Boparan has doubted whether Northern and Greencore could enjoy the mooted GBP40m in annual synergies they said the merger would create.