Northern Ireland drinks firm Drinks Inc is to be sold to Irish wholesale and retail giant Musgrave in a multi-million pound deal, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
An agreement between the Belfast-based company and Musgrave has been reached in principle, though legal discussions are continuing.
A deal for a suggested £7m is expected to be finalised in January.
Drinks Inc was founded by owner Paul Camplisson in 2001 and has grown into one of the biggest independent drinks distributors in Ireland.
Musgrave is the parent company of convenience store brands Mace and Centra and operates wholesale operation Musgrave Wholesale Partners.
A Musgrave spokeswoman said it "does not comment on speculation". Drinks Inc did not return a request for comment.
Musgrave also operates Northern Ireland's biggest cash and carry operation, Musgrave Marketplace, at Duncrue Road in Belfast. It has a liquor licence and supplies the licensed trade.
However, the acquisition of a business like Drinks Inc would afford it a full distribution channel all over Ireland. SuperValu stores in the Musgrave group are also licensed for the sale of alcohol.
Only a small number of Centras in Northern Ireland can sell alcohol, including a branch on Old Glenarm Road in Larne.
Colin Neill, the head of industry body Hospitality Ulster, said "rumours" of the deal had been circulating in the industry.
"If rumours are correct, this would bring Musgrave into a full-service distribution network for their alcoholic products, which they already sell in cash and carry mode to our industry," he said. "Musgrave is already a reputable brand and I think this would be a valuable addition to their portfolio."
Along with the shops it supplies, Musgrave says that it supports more than 41,000 jobs around the island of Ireland, with combined total retail sales of €5.2bn.
In Northern Ireland, Musgrave operates SuperValu, Centra, Mace, MarketPlace, La Rousse Foods, coffee brand Frank and Honest and Chipmongers.
Its has a wider range of brands in the Republic, with Daybreak and Donnybrook Fair also in its portfolio.
Drinks Inc had sales of around £66m in 2018, according to its latest accounts, and pre-tax profits of £2m. It currently employs 119 people.
A strategic report filed with its latest accounts said it had experienced a successful year "despite the ongoing difficult market conditions and increased competition".
"As regards future developments, the directors intend to continue to develop the company's products and customer base, therefore increasing turnover and profitability," it added.
Mr Camplisson also formed a separate company, JAR (IRE) Ltd, for buying pubs to act as a landlord to tenants.