Pork giants taking interest in Northern Ireland meat firm Dunbia
Two major firms in the pork sector have made approaches to buy one of Northern Ireland's biggest meat firms.
Dungannon-based Dunbia is one of the largest meat processors in the UK and Ireland, and turns over more than £800m each year.
Danish Crown and Cranswick - two of the biggest players in the UK - have reportedly made approaches to buy the pig-processing division of the firm.
In December, 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 to establish interest in a business before a formal bidding process begins.
The latest reported development hints at a possible break-up of the firm.
Dunbia started off life as a red meat processor, primarily beef, but has now grown its reach across the meat industry.
According to a report by The Sunday Times, a deal for the entire group could be completed within weeks.
There had been growing speculation that Dunbia was in the process of being sold to Brazilian firm JBS, which bought Moy Park last year. But the firm has dismissed those claims.
Dunbia did not wish to comment on the latest reports.
In a statement in December, Dunbia confirmed it 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 said it had enjoyed "consistent growth over the past number of years and has ambitious plans to grow and expand the business".
Dunbia was established almost 40 years ago as Dungannon Meats, a 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 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 UK supermarkets, including Sainsbury's, one of the firm's first big customers.
Rebranded as Dunbia in 2006, in 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.
Dunbia is also now selling its pork into India.
Dunbia boosted its profits by more than 40%, with turnover shooting up to £826m for the year, according to its latest accounts.