MATTHEWS, N.C. -- Cerberus Capital Management and Bain Capital are possibly interested in buying Matthews-based Harris Teeter, as the grocer continues to explore a sale, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

The possible sale of Harris Teeter has been rumored for more than three months, since the company disclosed two hedge funds had inquired about buying the company.

Harris Teeter declined to comment on Thursday s report. A spokeswoman referred questions to the company s earlier statements, which only confirmed that the company had hired JPMorgan to look into a sale.

Earlier this year, Cerberus led an investment group that acquired 850 Albertsons, Jewel-Osco and Shaw s grocery stores from Supervalu. The investors paid $100 million worth of equity and assumed $3.2 billion of debt to acquire the stores.

Bain Capital, which gained prominence last year as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney s old firm, led a $2.4-billion buyout of Dunkin Brands, owner of Dunkin Donuts, in 2005. That company went public again last year.

The Wall Street Journal cited unnamed sources, who cautioned that neither Bain nor Cerberus had yet decided to pursue a serious bid for Harris Teeter.

Harris Teeter operates more than 200 grocery stores, about two-thirds of them in North Carolina. The company has a market capitalization of more than $2.2 billion.

Analysts have also mentioned rival grocers, such as Publix and Ahold (which operates the Giant supermarkets), as possible acquirers of Harris Teeter.

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