Malcolm Walker remains in pole position to regain control of Iceland Foods despite the first round of bidding attracting strong interest from rivals and private equity investors.

Walker did not submit a bid in the first round, which closed this week. He owns a 23% stake, and only has to match the highest bid for the 67% stake held by officials responsible for the winding up of collapsed Icelandic bank Landsbanki and the 10% owned by Glitnir to be granted the ­remaining shares.

Sources close to the deal told The Grocer this week that despite the flurry of interest, Morrisons and Asda were not likely to make a formal bid for the entire business, preferring to cherrypick a tranche of stores, while private equity players would be put off by Walker's shareholding.

Private equity groups Bain, Blackstone, BC Partners and TPG are understood to have submitted first-round bids. "In my experience private equity players like control," said one senior finance source. "Would they be able to get that with Malcolm still in the picture? I think not."

There has been speculation in the last week that Asda would be more inclined to make a bid for the whole of the Iceland estate after chief executive Andy Clarke revealed sales at its former Netto stores had risen 45% since converting to Asda.

But the source suggested the same model was not ­directly transferable to Iceland stores. "Many of the Iceland stores wouldn't have the same amount of parking as the Nettos did, which would make them much less attractive," he argued. "I still don't think Asda or Morrisons would really want more than 200 or 300 stores, which leaves Malcolm as the most likely winner."

Any of the major supermarkets would have to ­offload at least 20% of Iceland's 776 stores on competition grounds, according to research released last week by analysts at CACI. The bids this week are understood to have initially valued the company at £1.3bn to £1.5bn. Walker had a bid of £1bn turned down last year, but remains confident he can raise the funding to match any of the current bids.