British retailer Woolworths Group plc has confirmed that it is in early talks with a potential suitor.

British retailer Woolworths Group plc has confirmed that it is in early talks with a potential suitor.

Woolworths said yesterday (Jan. 31) it had been approached by international venture capitalist firm Apax Partners, sending shares in the retailer to soar more than 20%.

"The board of Woolworths Group plc notes the announcement made this morning by Apax Partners Worldwide LLP that it is considering a possible offer for Woolworths, and that preparations are at a very early stage," the chain said in a subsequent note to the London stock exchange.

Earlier in the day, Apax issued a statement confirming its interest. "However, considerations are at a very early stage and there can be no certainty at all that any offer will ultimately be forthcoming," it said. Apax said it would seek the support of Woolworths's board for any offer.

Woolworths has long been a leading player in British music retail. In 2003, the chain accounted for 11.2% of album sales and 29.5% of singles sales in Britain, according to the British Phonographic Industry.

Earlier this month, Woolworths said that comparable-store sales were flat over the Christmas trading period, due in part to piracy affecting DVD sales. January trading "has been positive," it said.