Dunbia could be sold to the Brazilian firm that snapped up Moy Park
Ulster meat firm Dunbia could be sold to Brazilian giant JBS after it was revealed it was looking for new buyers.
The Dungannon-based business, with a turnover of £800m-plus last year, is one of the largest meat processors in the UK and Ireland.
Just last month the Belfast Telegraph revealed that a teaser document had been prepared to be sent out to businesses potentially interested in snapping up the Co Tyrone company.
The strategy is usually an early step in establishing interest in a business before a formal bidding process begins.
There is now growing speculation Dunbia is in the process of being sold to JBS, which bought Moy Park last year.
The company did not wish to make a comment on the potential deal.
In a statement issued last month, Dunbia confirmed the business was "considering options for maximising the potential of the company going forward" after having "received several serious expressions of interest from would-be investors over the past two years". It added that it had enjoyed "consistent growth over the past number of years and has ambitious plans to grow and expand the business".
Economist John Simpson said the potential sale to JBS could see Dunbia begin a rapid growth.
"In terms of the big companies in the meat industry, they were an obvious candidate," he said.
"On the basis that they will become part of a bigger firm, that could take Dunbia into expansion territory.
"The danger is there is an issue of Northern Ireland expanding its business and profit, but not necessarily its innovation.
"It is always an uncertain process in which you hope the ambitions of both parties benefit both.
"But whoever buys Dunbia must make a clear intention of what they plan to do."
Dunbia was established almost 40 years ago as Dungannon Meats, a humble frozen meat shop on the outskirts of the Co Tyrone town.
Jim and Jack Dobson's business was going through a small number of cattle each week.
It has since grown to employ close to 4,000 staff - 1,200 of them working in Northern Ireland - across a dozen sites exporting beef, lamb and pork across the globe.
Dunbia currently handles 7,000 cattle, 50,000 lambs and 15,000 pigs annually.
Around half the business involves selling primarily beef and lamb to the UK's supermarkets, including Sainsbury's, one of the firm's first big customers.
Just last month Dunbia's first shipment of pork arrived in India.
There are plans for further exports to the Sub-Continent this year.
Rebranded as Dunbia in 2006, over the last three decades the company has taken over a number of other processors in Ireland and Britain.
Its acquisitions have included Excel Meats and Newgrange Meats in the Republic, and Oriel Jones & Son in Wales.
And last year it took on Lynch Quality Meats in Ayrshire, Scotland.
It has grown its profits by more than 40%, with turnover shooting up to £826m for the year, according to its latest accounts.
Pre-tax profits rose to more than £6.5m in the year to March 29, 2015.