Former Premier Foods boss Darby in talks about £1.5bn bid for Kettle-owner Valeo

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A former chief executive of Premier Foods is in talks about a £1.5bn takeover bid for the branded grocery group which owns Kettle crisps and Rowse honey.

Sky News has learnt that Gavin Darby, who left the Mr Kipling-maker in 2019, is working with the private equity firm Cinven on an offer for Valeo.

The talks are at an early stage, and are part of an auction of Valeo which has been kicked off by its current owner, CapVest.

Mr Darby ran Premier Foods, which also makes Bisto and Angel Delight, for six years.

His work with Cinven, which could see him become Valeo's chairman if its bid succeeds, underlines the seriousness with which the buyout firm is approaching the situation.

City sources said that Cinven was bidding against rivals including Advent International, Bain Capital and PAI Partners.

CapVest hired Goldman Sachs to oversee a sale of Valeo earlier this year, paving the way for what is likely to be among the food industry's largest transactions of 2021.

Valeo was formed just over a decade ago when CapVest acquired two Irish ambient food businesses: Batchelors and Origin Foods.

Since then, it has made more than a dozen acquisitions, including the Fox's and Barratt confectionery labels and Matthew Walker, Britain's biggest supplier of Christmas puddings.

Most recently, Valeo bought It's All Good, a manufacturer of tortillas for leading supermarkets.

The buy-and-build strategy has created a business with over €1bn in sales.

Valeo has seen strong sales since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, which is said to be a factor in the timing of CapVest's decision to launch a sale process.

The Dublin-based company is run by Seamus Kearney, a former Aer Lingus executive.

Cinven declined to comment, while Mr Darby could not be reached for comment.