(Bloomberg) -- Soy sauce maker Jonjee Hi-Tech Industrial and Commercial Holding Co.’s controlling shareholders are considering bringing in strategic investors after purging the board backed by the previous owner, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Zhongshan, China-based firm’s shareholders are working with an adviser to sound out domestic and international investors, the people said, asking not to be identified discussing a private matter. The group, led by local government-backed Zhongshan Torch Group Co. and shareholders including CDH Investments, could agree a deal with potential strategic backers to help operate the business as soon as the end of this year, the people said.

Discussions are at an early stage and may not lead to any transactions, the people said. 

The Torch-led group is the company’s largest shareholder with a 19.93% stake, according to Jonjee’s 2023 interim report. Torch and CDH took over after Zhongshan Runtian Investment Co., controlled by Yao Zhenhua, chairman of Chinese real estate and financial services conglomerate Shenzhen Baoneng Investment Group Co., reduced its holdings, the report showed.  

The potential introduction of strategic backers comes amid a dispute with the former controlling shareholder. Runtian-affiliated directors were removed from the company’s board at an extraordinary shareholders’ meeting in July, making Yao no longer the ultimate owner of the company, according to Jonjee’s interim report. The meeting sparked protests from Baoneng and Yao, who alleged that the July meeting was illegal and vowed to pursue the matter through the courts.

The meeting was conducted in a legal and compliant manner, and there were no instances of illegal conduct, a Jonjee spokesperson said in response to a Bloomberg News query.

Jonjee’s future development and expansion may involve the introduction of strategic investors, the company spokesperson said, adding that people should refer to its official announcements for further news. Representatives for Baoneng didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment by phone and email. 

Jonjee produces condiments including popular soy sauce brand Meiweixian in China and others including vinegar, oyster sauce and hot pot base. The company also operates in the real estate and property management industries, according to its website. It owns a high-tech industrial park with more than 300 companies from over 20 countries and regions. 

Baoneng has come under strain amid China’s economic slowdown, delaying some payments to employees. It issued a statement in August condemning what it characterized as a violent attack on Yao the month before, after sales staff confronted him over delayed payments. Most of the company’s units are paying salaries normally, and it has taken legal action and necessary measures to ensure the personal safety of all employees, the statement showed.

--With assistance from Daniela Wei.

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