Princes, the UK food-and-beverage group owned by Japan’s Mitsubishi Corp., is reported to be on the radar of private-equity houses.

Sky News reported Aurelius Group and private-equity-backed Valeo Foods are weighing up the canned tuna and shelf-stable drinks supplier.

In January, financial-markets news publication Debtwire said Mitsubishi had appointed M&A advisers at Houlihan Lokey to handle a process to sell Princes, which it has owned since 1989.

At the time, Mitsubishi said it had yet to make a decision on the future of Princes.

However, today (17 March), Sky News also reported Houlihan Lokey’s involvement and named Aurelius and Valeo as potential suitors.

Germany-based Aurelius refused to be drawn on the report. “We cannot comment on this,” a spokesperson said.

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Approached by Just Drinks, Valeo Foods declined to comment.

When Mitsubishi acquired Princes, the Liverpool-based company focused on the import and distribution of shelf-stable food. The company’s product range now also includes edible oils and beverages.

In the year to 31 March 2022, Princes generated revenue of GBP1.44bn (US$1.75bn), down 8% on the previous 12 months, according to a filing with the UK’s Companies House made last week. Princes said it was lapping “an exceptional increase” in revenue booked the year earlier when Covid-19 boosted demand.

Operating profit stood at GBP37.4m, versus GBP47.5m the year before. Profit for the year attributable to the owners of the company halved, falling from GBP34.8m to GBP17.2m. Princes pointed to lower sales volumes, higher tax expenses and a boost to the previous year’s profits from an asset sale.

Princes has two food factories and three beverage production sites in the UK. The company also has a tomato-processing facility in Italy and a tuna-processing site in Mauritius. During the year to the end of March, the company employed, on average, 6,977 full-time staff.

Among Princes’ assets is an 8% stake in UK fruit-juice business Cawston Press.