Morrisons performance has been under scrutiny in recent months

Morrisons' performance has been under scrutiny in recent months

The founder of Morrisons has reportedly expressed surprise at a report that claimed the UK grocer's founding family had approached private-equity firms to see if they wanted to jointly bid for the business.

Sir Ken Morrison this afternoon told The Independent he was "quite surprised" to see a Bloomberg report that said members of the Morrison family had held talks with buy-out houses Apax Partners, Carlyle and CVC Capital Partners.

"They [the family] will all have considered views on the performance of the business. I am honorary president, which means I don't have a vote, I am not consulted and I don't have views. It's not a job that I relish, you know."

Bloomberg had reported the Morrison family, which holds around 9% of the retailer's shares, had contacted the private-equity firms to gauge interest in a bid. Apax had decided not to press ahead with a move for Morrisons, the newswire said.

Morrisons has seen sales come under pressure in recent quarters. Its sales fell in its last financial year, which ran until 3 February. Sales have also declined year-on-year in each of the first three quarters of Morrisons' current fiscal year.

Last month, Morrisons reported a near-6% drop in like-for-like sales over Christmas. The UK's fourth-largest grocer said its like-for-like sales fell 5.6% excluding fuel in the six weeks to 5 January. Total sales excluding fuel decreased 1.9%. The retailer also warned it expected its annual underlying profits to be "towards the bottom end" of current market expectations.

Sir Ken has been a critic of Morrisons in recent years. In the summer of 2012, he warned Morrisons was losing relevance with core customers, a view echoed by some industry watchers.

Data issued by Kantar Worldpanel yesterday showed Morrisons had seen its share of the UK grocery market erode year-on-year, prompting criticism from the City over its performance and trading strategy.

Reflecting on today's Bloomberg report, one critic, Shore Capital analyst Clive Black, said: "Given Morrisons' trading weakness and relatively low valuation, such headlines and potential initiatives are to be expected to some degree at this time, in our view. Indeed, we would expect a number of serious private-equity investors to be running the rule over Morrisons."

Morrisons declined to comment. CVC said it had "no comment on this speculation". Carlyle had not returned a request for comment at the time of writing.