Esselunga founder and chairman Bernardo Caprotti failed to clarify his plans for the future of the Italian supermarket chain, after ruling out a sale to Tesco or Wal-Mart

At a barnstorming press conference to promote the launch of his book, Caprotti said he had no plans to sell Esselunga at present and may float the company.

“It would be difficult to find the right buyer to carry on our tradition of retail excellence. We could also consider an IPO [Initial Public Offering], but we haven’t taken any steps at all in either direction,” he said.

Following Caprotti’s comments, an Esselunga spokesman confirmed “there were no immediate plans for a sale”.

However, Caprotti ruled out selling the 128-store supermarket chain, which reported an annual turnover of 5 billion (£3.5 billion) in 2006, to global retail giants Wal-Mart and Tesco.

Caprotti said “absolutely not” to a tie-up with Tesco, citing empty meat shelves on a recent trip to a UK store.

He added that Wal-Mart’s discount strategy is “the antithesis of Esselunga”, which focuses on fresh food and an upmarket customer.

However, he declined to rule out German retailer Rewe. Caprotti said: “There are probably only three or four retailers in the world that could be considered suitable.” However, he declined to name them.