The bids prove that some of the UK’s biggest supermarket chains are eager to buy into the 900-store estate in what some observers say could be the last big opportunity to acquire a major UK grocer.
A source close to Somerfield said Co-operative Group had expressed an interest in the entire chain, although it would try to sell off stores that overlapped with its existing estate.
Asda is thought to be interested in about 600 stores, a transaction that would launch the Wal-Mart-owned grocer into the UK convenience sector, with the typical size of Somerfield’s shops being about 7,000 sq ft.
Sainsbury’s is believed to want about 350 stores, which is about the same number as the grocer considered acquiring in 2000.
A fourth unknown buyer is also understood to have submitted a provisional bid. A time frame for second-round bids and the value of those submitted is unclear.
Somerfield’s owners kick-started an auction for the chain last year. Sources in the sector said that it is keen to sell the whole business and does not want to be saddled with the rump of its store estate.
Asda, Sainsbury’s and Co-operative Group declined to comment.
C-DAY LOOMS FOR GROCERS
The Competition Commission inquiry was due to deliver its hotly anticipated remedies report in its inquiry into the£120 billion grocery sector as Retail Week went to press.
The Commission is considering tightening up the Supermarkets Code of Practice and appointing an ombudsman to make it easier for suppliers to resolve their grievances. It could also bind grocers beyond the big four to the code.
It will also deliver a number of remedies intended to improve competition in areas where a chain has a high concentration of stores, such as a fascia test. In addition, it is also considering outlawing the practice of developers granting exclusivity to one supermarket on major brownfield development schemes.