Spanish supermarket chain Mercadona and the biggest department-store player El Corte Ingles are reportedly interested in buying Italian foodstuffs chain Esselunga.

"We have an internationalisation project. We think Esselunga is a very good company led by great entrepreneur [referring to founder Bernardo Caprotti] but we have not been offered the company," a Mercadona spokeswoman told just-food.com. Citing Italian newspapers, Spanish newswire Europapress said El Corte Ingles is also looking to snatch Esselunga as part of its own international expansion plans.

El Corte Ingles spokespeople would not comment on the reports.

Esselunga has told its employees that it is up for sale, Europapress reported, citing Italia newspaper La Repubblica. Other interested bidders UK supermarket giant Tesco and Wal Mart have have lost interest, La Repubblica added.

Esselunga could not immediately be reached for comment.

Esselunga has 123 supermarkets spread mostly throughout northern Italy while Mercadona has 862 outlets in Spain.

"Our plan is to be in the international markets in five years," the Mercadona spokeswoman added.