Northern Foods is the front-runner in the race to buy fresh pasta and sauces manufacturer Pasta Reale, The Grocer has learnt.

Executives from Northern Foods have twice visited Pasta Reale in Crawley, West Sussex, in the past week to tour the production facilities.

Owned by the Lopalco family, Pasta Reale admitted a potential purchaser had visited the site, but refused to confirm their identity.

Northern Foods declined to comment.

Pasta Reale would be a good strategic fit for Northern Foods. The food manufacturer is keen to expand its chilled offer and in November last year CEO Stefan Barden told The Grocer he was interested in acquiring small, family-owned companies following its acquisition of chilled ready meals and snacks supplier Ethnic Cuisine.

Pasta Reale, which generated sales of £30.4m in 2006, would fit the bill.

Pasta Reale's soups business could also appeal to Northern Foods.

The company makes own-label chilled soups for Sainsbury's and the Co-op, as well as the Duchy Originals brand.

Northern Foods recently acquired a Baxters chilled soup factory in Grimsby because its soup factory in Lincolnshire had been "bursting at the seams".