Asda, the UK arm of retail giant Wal-Mart, has refused to be drawn on reports linking the company to a possible bid for local rival Somerfield.

Somerfield's owners, property tycoon Robert Tchenguiz and private equity groups Apax and Barclays Capital, are said to have received three offers for the UK grocer.

Sources familiar with the situation told UK newspaper The Observer that two of the "household names" in UK grocery retailing has expressed their interest.

Asda has remained coy over its possible interest. "We can't comment, it's market speculation," an Asda spokesperson told just-food today (14 January). "We wouldn't rule anything out necessarily but in terms of buying Somerfield, such rumours come and go quite quickly."

Last week, UK retailer The Co-Operative Group moved to play down speculation linking it to the company.

A spokesman for the Co-op told just-food that the company is looking to grow its food business but said its focus was on bedding down last year's merger with United Co-operatives.

Somerfield has been valued at GBP1.8bn (US$3.5bn) and plans are in the offing to expand the business. Nevertheless, rumours abound that its owners may look to sell the business.

One of the owners, private equity firm Apax, stayed tight-lipped. "We're not saying anything at this stage," a spokesman for Apax told just-food.