WhiteWave Foods has reportedly held early talks with Quorn Foods' private-equity owner Exponent Private Equity to buy the UK-based meat-free company.

The US-based owner of dairy-free business Alpro has had "initial discussions" with Exponent, according to a Sky News report over the weekend.

An unnamed source told Sky News the negotiations were "highly preliminary" and WhiteWave had not tabled a formal offer.

Exponent, which acquired Quorn from Premier Foods plc in 2010, is preparing an auction of the business, Sky News said.

Quorn's sales are reported to have hit GBP150m (US$225.6m) in 2014. The company's most-recently published accounts at Companies House are for 2013. Sales that year grew 7% to GBP140.9m, which contributed to a 4.6% rise in operating profit to GBP11.3m

The business did see its losses grow during 2013, with a net loss of GBP15.4m compared to GBP13.8m in 2012. The company's interest expenses grew year-on-year linked to charges when Exponent bought Quorn.

Officials at Exponent, Quorn and WhiteWave could not be reached for immediate comment.