Michael Clarke, chief executive of Premier Foods, has announced he will step down from his position 18 months after joining the company.

Clarke joined the company, which produces Hovis bread, back in August 2011, and has decided to leave the board with immediate effect. He said he will remain available to the company until mid-2013 to hand over to his successor.

He will be replaced by Gavin Darby, former boss of telecoms company Cable & Wireless, who will take up the chief executive position as of 4 February.

David Beever, chairman of Premier Foods, said: “I am delighted to welcome Gavin Darby to Premier Foods. His strong fast-moving consumer goods background and management track record make him the ideal candidate to lead the company. The board very much looks forward to working with Gavin to continue driving sustainable profitable growth at Premier.”

He added that Clarke and the team had done a first-class job in stabilising the business, strengthening its balance sheet, divesting non-core businesses and generating momentum. 

“This is a significant achievement in a challenging market and I would like to thank Mike on behalf of the board for his contribution,” Beever commented.

Darby said: “I am very excited to be taking on this role. Although markets remain difficult, I look forward to working with the team to develop and grow the company’s power brands in the coming years. Premier Foods has great potential and I fully intend to invest a significant personal sum in the shares of the company after the full-year results are published in February, which the company will match.”