US venture capital firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) has emerged as the latest player in the battle over UK supermarket chain Safeway.

KKR said it was interested in Safeway, but that its interest was at an early stage, and that it is considering making an offer for the chain.

UK supermarket chain Morrisons initiated the bidding war by announcing a bid for its larger rival last week. Since then, both Sainsbury’s and the US parent of Asda, Wal-Mart, have confirmed their interest in Safeway.

KKR specialises in buying out what it sees as undervalued companies and either splitting them into smaller units to be sold off, or introducing new management. There have been reports that KKR is planning to split up the chain, but there have also been suggestions that the firm may target Allan Leighton, the former Asda boss who is now chairman of Royal Mail, to run the supermarket chain, reported BBC Online.

Safeway’s long-standing stockbroker, Credit Suisse First Boston, departed from Safeway yesterday [Thursday] citing a conflict of interest. The broker is understood to be working with KKR on an all-cash bid for Safeway, reported the Guardian.

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KKR has been interested in Safeway before. In 1986 it bought the US Safeway group – formerly the British group’s parent – for US$4.8bn. It took the group public in 1990 and sold off its shareholding over the following nine years.