Premier Foods added a new ingredient to its portfolio of brands by snapping up the maker of meat alternative Quorn for £172 million ($311 million).
Quorn will be Premier's largest brand, joining labels such as Ambrosia custard, Branston Pickle, HP sauce and Typhoo Tea.
Owner Marlow Foods, whose only brand is Quorn, was sold to Premier by Montagu Private Equity.
Since its U.K. launch a decade ago, Quorn has become the U.K.'s largest meat alternative brand with annual retail sales of £95 million ($172 million).
It initially targeted vegetarians but has recently been boosted by the trend toward healthier eating and lower meat consumption.
Quorn is made from mycoprotein, a member of the fungi family, and acts as a direct substitute for meat, being a good source of protein, low in fat and high in fiber.
It is used in a range of products, including burgers, sausages, mince, cottage pie and cold deli slices. It has a 60% share of the £155 million ($280 million) alternative meat market in the U.K. and also has leading positions in Switzerland, Belgium and Holland.
Robert Schofield, chief executive of Premier Foods, said, "Quorn is ideally placed to benefit from the increasing demand for healthy eating, and the combination with Premier should accelerate its growth."
The deal is one of Premier's first since listing on the stock market in July with a value of £527 million ($952 million). It also bought brands such as Bird's Custard and Angel Delight from U.S. giant Kraft Foods in December.
Marlow Foods will be operated as a standalone business, run by its existing management team, although the deal is expected to bring savings of about £4 million ($7.23 million) a year by 2008 in areas such as administration and purchasing.
No major job losses are expected among its 360 staff.
Following the purchase, Quorn plans to hit the grocery market with a spate of new product development. Nick Hughes, managing director of Marlow Foods, told The Grocer that there was hardly any grocery category using meat which Quorn might not target, including pizzas, sandwiches and snacks.
The brand will be the biggest in Premier Foods portfolio, and the company is promising hefty advertising and innovation investment to reposition it as a healthy product for everyone, not just vegetarians.