Britain's top retailer Tesco has declined to comment on Tuesday on a reports that it was about to take a 49% stake in US foodseller Meijer, but said it had never ruled out a North American deal, the Reuters news agency reported.

Reuters referred to a report in trade magazine The Grocer that Tesco would pay GBP2.5b (US$4.3bn) pounds for the stake in the family-owned, Michigan-based grocery and general merchandise operation.

The deal would be announced in two weeks, The Grocer said, without disclosing the nature of its sources.

A spokeswoman for Tesco said only that the company did not comment on market rumours, but emphasised that Chief Executive Terry Leahy had never ruled out a push into the United States.

At a recent press meeting, Leahy seemed to be ruling out an immediate move into the US, but the spokeswoman said he had not been so absolute. "What Terry said is that we've been looking at the possibility for more than 20 years now -- it's a 'never say never' approach. But he did intimate that it would be a cautious approach," the spokeswoman said.

Privately held Meijer, which operates about 170 grocery and department stores in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio which are open 24 hours a day, 364 days a year, was not immediately available for comment.