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Wegmans says it's not shopping around British reports say grocery giant Tesco PLC is looking at U.S. chains, possibly Wegmans

Wegmans Food Markets appears to have attracted interest from a retail giant across the Atlantic, but the Rochester-based chain isn't looking for a partner.

Reports in British press say Tesco PLC, the largest food retailer in the United Kingdom, wants to expand its U.S. presence. The stories say Wegmans is among the chains it might have its eye on.

The U.K.-based publication The Independent, citing unnamed sources, said Tesco is interested in medium-size U.S. chains with sales of about $10 billion.

The story said unidentified industry analysts considered Wegmans among several "potential targets." Hoovers, the business information Website, estimates Wegmans' annual sales at $3.6 billion. Family-owned Wegmans does not routinely release its sales figures.

Asked if Wegmans would entertain an offer to sell, chain spokeswoman Ann McCarthy said: "Our response continues to be, as it always has been, that the entire Wegmans family is strongly committed to remaining privately held and family owned."

A Tesco spokesman, Jonathan Church, declined to discuss specific chains Tesco might be interested in.

"There's been a lot of speculation, to be honest, about the States," Church said. "We've been researching the United States for more than 20 years now."

And that research continues, Church added. Tesco is exploring opportunities in the United States and other countries.

McCarthy wouldn't confirm whether Tesco had approached Wegmans about a deal. "Confirming approaches that we might get is not something that we would do," she said.

A local industry consultant said he doesn't see a need for Wegmans to make such a deal.

Wegmans has developed its pricing model, it has the capital it needs to expand, and it has established a leadership succession plan by promoting Colleen Wegman, daughter of the chain's chief executive officer Danny Wegman, said Daniel Fulham, a partner in Buffalo-based Bridgepoint Partners.

Tesco is probably studying a number of U.S. chains it could connect with to make inroads, he said. "Tesco may have a lot of people on their list. It doesn't mean they have any interest from the people they have identified."

The Independent's story suggested Tesco's strategy might be to take a minority stake in an established U.S. chain. A Tesco subsidiary already owns a share of Safeway's online grocery operation.

Though Church wouldn't talk about specific chains, Tesco did say it wouldn't bid for Albertson's, an Idaho-based supermarket chain that recently put itself up for sale.

Another U.K. publication, the Mail on Sunday, mentioned Wegmans, Safeway and Michigan-based Meijer as other possible Tesco targets. It said Tesco had a 65-member team of executives in the United States looking for acquisition prospects.

It wouldn't be unheard of for an overseas retailer to buy its way into the U.S. market. Tops Markets is owned by the Dutch retailer Ahold, which also owns three other U.S. supermarket chains.

e-mail: mglynn@buffnews.com

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