UK luxury chocolate maker and retailer Thorntons has confirmed that it has been in preliminary discussions with a private equity house that may lead to an offer being made for the company.

The company said in a statement that its independent directors, John Thornton and John Jackson, have granted permission to the management team to look for potential sources of finance to enable the company to be taken private.

"We have received a tentative approach from a venture capital company. The management then expressed the view that they wanted to meet with other potential financial backers and we gave them permission," John Jackson, senior non-executive director, was quoted by the Financial Times as saying.

"We are definitely not restricting ourselves to MBOs. We have not solicited trade bidders but there is no doubt that if there is an interest from a trade bidder, they will make contact," he added.

The company reported a pre-tax profit of £6.4m (US$10.7m) for the year to 28 June, compared to £7.1m a year earlier.