The Somerfield brand could disappear from the high street "within 18 months" it was claimed this week.

That the retailer is up for sale is grocery's worst-kept secret - in March, chairman John Lovering told a reporter that he was waiting for someone to come up with "a big enough bag of money" to buy it, while chief executive Paul Mason has talked in industry circles about building up the business to sell it off.

However, it appears increasingly likely the company will not be sold as a going concern but will be broken up and sold off in several property deals.

"The sell-off is definitely going to happen - and it's expected that it will be hived off to various buyers," said one individual close to the group. "The owners will want to sell by the end of the year to get the best price. In all likelihood, the Somerfield name will have disappeared from the high street within 18 months."

Private equity owner Violet Acquisitions bought Somerfield 18 months ago, but TNS Worldpanel figures show its market share fell from 4.1% to 3.7% in the year to 22 April.

Icelandic retail investment group Baugur has been linked to Somerfield - but some experts believe there is little of value left to appeal to a private equity buyer. Asda has already been linked to a deal, while Sainsbury's could be a forerunner to buy stores as it expands its c-store estate (see p8). Tesco and BP are thought likely candidates for the forecourt operation.