Sainsbury’s is rumoured to be exploring the possibility of acquiring P&H, a move which would counter the combined power of a merged Tesco-Booker.

Sky News cites a Sainsbury’s insider as the source of the rumour, though the same source described the any potential takeover as “difficult” owing to the wholesaler’s high levels of debt.

Sky News had previously highlighted JTI and Imperial as the most likely suspects in any takeover bid for P&H.

The move would create a duopolistic market in both wholesale and retail, with the weight of Tesco and Booker facing a combined Sainsbury’s and P&H. Booker’s CEO Charles Wilson told Retail Express that the merger will deliver better value and service for independents, but research by rivals Bestway suggests that retailers are not yet convinced.

As P&H is the largest supplier in the convenience market, it’s likely a similar tie-up with a multiple like Sainsbury’s would receive a similar response.

At a recent media event, Palmer & Harvey MD Martyn Ward refused to comment on any questions related to the sale of the company.