Two industry veterans are poised for battle as they lead rival bids for grocer Asda in a £6.5bn deal.
Rob Templeman, a former chief executive of Debenhams, is working with Apollo Global Management on one bid.
Meanwhile, Lone Star Funds, another private equity bidder, is using former Asda boss Paul Mason to table its bid, Sky News first reported.
Walmart, the supermaket’s US owner, has restarted talks with existing bidders after it paused discussions when the pandemic hit. The sale process comes after the failed merger with Sainsbury’s last year.
Mr Templeman has a longstanding relationship with Apollo, and worked with the firm during its ownership of Gala Coral, the bookmaker now part of GVC Holdings. He previously ran Halfords and Homebase.
Mr Mason was at the helm at Asda until 2001. He then served as chief executive of Somerfield and also chaired retailers Cath Kidston, Matalan, New Look and more recently Dr Martens.
Walmart has owned Asda since 1999 when took over the chain in a £6.7bn deal.
It wants to offload its British operations to focus on more lucrative markets such as India, where it recently spent $16bn (£12.5bn) to take control of online marketplace Flipkart.
Walmart’s plan to merge Asda with Sainsbury’s would have left it with 42pc of the merged business.
The plan was thwarted by the competition watchdog in a ruling that buried most hope of further major consolidation in the grocery market.
Walmart is likely to keep a minority stake in a private equity sale too, allowing it to share in a potential stock market float in the future.
This week, Walmart said that Asda would focus on expanding its online capacity as it continued to lose market share to rivals.
The auction of Asda is likely to conclude before the end of the year. TDR Capital, another private equity firm, is also said to be considering a bid.