ROME/MILAN The 90-year old founder of Italian supermarket chain Esselunga is considering a sale of the group and has picked Citigroup (C.N) as adviser to assess expressions of interest from private equity funds, two sources close to the matter said on Monday.
One of the sources said that CVC Capital Partners [CVC.UL] and Blackstone (BX.N) had expressed interest in Italy's third-largest supermarket chain, which had revenue of 7.3 billion euros ($8.2 billion) last year.
The second source said the board of the family holding that owns Esselunga had been convened on Monday to give an advisory mandate to Citi but gave no further details.
Citi and Esselunga declined to comment.
Esselunga, founded in 1957 by Bernardo Caprotti and his brothers, together with Nelson Rockefeller, operates mainly in the wealthy north of Italy and focuses on medium and large supermarkets as well as its online business.
The unlisted chain is worth between 4 billion euros and 6 billion euros, depending on the real estate that could be sold with the stores, La Repubblica newspaper reported at the weekend.
Italy's retail market is highly fragmented and supermarket chains are smaller than in other large European economies, prompting calls for consolidation.
Caprotti, a secretive yet outspoken figure from a long line of Italian businessmen, has previously been reported to have rejected overtures from Britain's Tesco (TSCO.L) and U.S. giant Wal-Mart (WMT.N), which he once described as the "antithesis of Esselunga".
Caprotti has in the past aired his views in letters to newspapers and in 2007 wrote a book taking aim at Italy's cooperative supermarkets, but did not hold a press conference until he was into his eighties.
The billionaire businessman, who has been in a long-running legal dispute with the two children of his first marriage over ownership of the chain, stepped down as Esselunga chairman in 2011 and resigned from all executive functions at the company in 2013.
(Writing by Stephen Jewkes and Silvia Aloisi; Editing by David Goodman)