July 18, 2018 / 7:29 AM / 5 months ago

REFILE-UPDATE 2-Premier Foods may shed assets to placate investors

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* Shares down 9 pct ahead of AGM

* Co open to selling parts of business

* Q1 sales up 1.7 pct

By Martinne Geller and Sangameswaran S

LONDON, July 18 (Reuters) - Premier Foods said it was open to selling parts of the business and acknowledged it had to speed up its turnaround plans ahead of a showdown with investors who want to replace its Chief Executive Gavin Darby.

The maker of Mr Kipling cakes and Bisto gravy has been under shareholder pressure ever since U.S. food-maker McCormick walked away from a takeover bid in 2016, pushing one of its largest shareholders, Paulson & Co, to criticise the board for rejecting the offer.

Premier’s second-largest shareholder, Oasis Management, has called for shareholders to vote against Darby’s re-election on Wednesday. The Hong Kong-based investor has accused Darby of having no credible strategy to tackle slowing UK growth and reduce its net debt, which stands at around 495 million pounds ($645 million).

Darby, who has been in charge of the Oxo stock cube-maker for more than five years, said he was open to selling assets at the right price.

“Nothing is off the table,” Hamill said late on Tuesday.

Its chairman, Keith Hamill, said the company had held exploratory talks to sell its Batchelors soup brand to Japan’s Nissin Foods although nothing materialised.

The company has a partnership with Nissin - its largest shareholder - to sell Batchelors products.

Shares of Premier fell 9 percent to 42.60 pence by 1021 GMT, and are down around 28.2 percent since Darby took over.

Oasis nearly doubled its stake in Premier to 17.3 percent in the week before the annual meeting, taking it close to Nissin’s 19.75 percent. Nissin is expected to vote in favour of Darby at the meeting.

The company said in its trading update on Wednesday that the Batchelors brand continued to “display excellent growth,” helping Premier’s quarterly sales rise 1.7 percent.

The company’s largest brand, Mr Kipling, boosted sales following a brand relaunch in March that included a TV advertising campaign, brand re-design and new packaging.

Premier has seen sales outside its home market grow, thanks to its partnerships with noodle-maker Nissin and candy-maker Mondelez.

Sales at its international business rose 4 percent in the quarter and nearly 20 percent over the last two quarters, the company said.

Premier stuck to its full-year expectations and said it expects to make progress in the second half of the year.

The company said it would look to reduce debt by 25 million pounds each year. ($1 = 0.7673 pounds) (Reporting by Martinne Geller Editing by Leslie Adler and Louise Heavens)

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