Canned goods and soft drinks giant Princes is emerging as the frontrunner to pick up the John West canned seafood business as its owner Heinz announced a review of its European seafood and frozen foods operations.
Merrill Lynch analyst Nick Sochovsky said: "Princes is an obvious contender for John West as it already has considerable scale in the canned goods market. As for who would want the frozen businesses -- it's less clear. They have attractive brands -- Linda McCartney, Weight Watchers and so on, but frozen is not a very attractive category at the moment. You need to have scale to have any clout."
Heinz Europe's president and chief executive Joe Jimenez said John West and the frozen operations were successful, but did not fit into its "long-range vision of becoming a faster-growing, more-focused company". Up for grabs could be both brand licences it owns and production capacity.
Heinz facilities at Okehampton, Westwick, Leamington Spa, Fakenham and Dundalk in Ireland will be the focus of the review. Its biggest British plant, near Wigan, will not be affected.
Princes declined to comment on John West, but confirmed that it was working on four takeovers.
Manufacturing division boss Tim Jolly said: "We are a highly acquisitive company and our parent company Mitsubishi likes the kind of return on investment that we generate. We've got four deals in the pipeline at the moment, some at the end of due diligence, and some a bit further away.
"We see potential in areas where other people don't," he said. "Napolina was a £7m brand when we bought it. Two years later it was a £25m brand."