Kroger Co., the biggest U.S. supermarket chain, said it isn't pursuing a leveraged buyout, refuting a report that the company may be seeking to sell itself.

"Neither management nor our board of directors has any interest in pursuing a leveraged buyout transaction," Chief Executive Officer David Dillon said Friday in a statement. "Our focus is on the execution of our business strategy."

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that private-equity firms are interested in Kroger. The grocer may soon hire Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to look into a leveraged buyout, the report said, citing unnamed people familiar with the situation.

Kroger, based in Cincinnati, earned $1.12 billion on sales of $66.1 billion for the year ended in February. The grocer has discounted merchandise to fend off competition from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. supercenters, which sell a full line of groceries, and Safeway Inc. Kroger operates 2,468 supermarkets in 31 states under two dozen names including Kroger, Ralphs and King Soopers.

The Journal didn't identify firms that may be interested in Kroger.

Shares of the grocer fell 24 cents to $29.11 Thursday in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. U.S. markets were closed Friday for the Good Friday holiday. The stock has climbed 46 percent in the past 12 months.

Speculation about a bid for Kroger comes as the grocery industry consolidates in both the U.K. and United States.

Buyout firms CVC Capital Partners Ltd., Blackstone Group LP and Texas Pacific Group are considering a bid for J Sainsbury Plc, the third-largest U.K. grocery chain.

Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., the owner of A&P and Food Emporium supermarkets in the United States, agreed in March to buy Pathmark Stores Inc. for $689.7 million to fend off competition from Wal-Mart and Costco Wholesale Corp.

Whole Foods Market Inc., the largest U.S. natural-foods grocer, agreed in February to buy rival Wild Oats Markets Inc. for $565 million to help counter slowing growth.

In January 2006, Albertsons Inc. agreed to be sold for $17.4 billion to a group led by Supervalu Inc. and CVS Corp.