Sainsbury’s has been named as the frontrunner in Nisa’s potential sale, with Bestway and Co-op also in the running, but a deal must protect members’ independence, retailers have told RN.

Sources said an offer from Sainsbury’s has made the most progress so far, with a deal that offers significant value to shareholders, while Bestway and Co-op have also been highlighted as interested parties. This follows the news that Nisa is exploring the potential of bringing outside investors and shareholders into the business, as reported by Sky News last week.

At a time when the industry faces a substantial amount of uncertainty, Nisa retailers told RN they felt a sale was inevitable.

Bal Singh, of Nisa Local in Great Barr, Birmingham, said: “I’ve heard a few of the big boys are looking at buying Nisa. The member directors are involved and the deal has to be right for them – it won’t even come to us without them being sure of its benefits for all members.

“If it is one of the big boys, having one of their fascias above our stores will automatically increase business. The downside is we’re the only retail group with full independence. We can operate our businesses how we want to and I wouldn’t like to lose that.

“The buying power would be key too. Greater buying power means better margins.”

Harj Dhasee, of Village Stores in Mickleton, Gloucestershire, welcomed the news but stressed the importance of Nisa retailers maintaining their input in the group.

“We have a voice, we are shareholders,” he said. “Nisa is very member-focused and is a unique business, it shouldn’t lose that.”

Nisa retailer Paul Cheema, of Malcolm’s Store in Coventry, said he joined Nisa for the independence it offers members.

“I joined Nisa because I value the independence and mutuality. I still value it as the number one symbol group in the market,” he said.

Nisa is also in talks about a major £120m refinancing deal with HSBC and Wells Fargo which would support expansion plans.

The news comes five months after the Tesco-Booker merger was announced and also follows last month’s revelations that Sainsbury’s is considering a takeover of P&H.

Nisa, Sainsbury’s and Co-op declined to comment, while Bestway did not respond.