The Co-operative Group is locked in talks to buy fellow UK convenience retailer Somerfield, just-food understands.

Negotiations between the two companies have begun after the Co-op emerged as the only potential suitor to table a formal bid for Somerfield, which runs over 900 stores in the UK.

A source familiar with the situation told just-food today (2 April) that takeover talks had started although the two sides had yet to agree on a price.

Somerfield's owners, a consortium that includes property tycoon Robert Tchenguiz, Barclays Capital and Apax Partners, put the business up for sale in January and was understood to be looking for up to GBP2.5bn (US$4.9bn) for the chain.

The consortium bought the UK's fifth-largest grocer for GBP1.8bn two years ago.

A spokesman for the Co-op refused to be drawn on whether the retailer had any interest in Somerfield.

The Co-op is looking to expand through acquisitions but is focusing on bedding down last year's merger with United Co-operatives.

Officials at Somerfield could not be reached for immediate comment while members of the consortium behind the business declined to comment.