US natural and organic food group Tree of Life looks set to have a new owner by the end of the year after current Dutch parent Wessanen confirmed the business would be sold.

Tree of Life distributes lines from Hain Celestial, Kraft Foods and Dean Foods' Horizon Organic alongside its own namesake products and Wessanen has kicked off an auction for the firm.

Wessanen had been mulling the future of Tree of Life since April and a spokesman confirmed to just-food today (24 August) that the group had plumped for a sale.

"It is an auction process [and] we expect that Tree of Life will be sold before the end of the year," the spokesman told just-food.

US distributor United Natural Foods (UNFI) has been cited as a potential suitor for Tree of Life but the Wessanen spokesman refused to comment on whether it had already received offers for the business.

The spokesman also refused to be drawn on Wessanen's asking price, although he confirmed the proceeds from a sale would be used to pay down debts and expand its operations in Europe.

Last month, Wessanen posted a significant second-quarter operating loss hit by impairment charges at its US beverage unit, which is under an internal investigation for financial irregularities.