(Dec. 9) The upcoming Christmas shopping season may feature whole store chains on somebody’s list.

Boise, Idaho-based Albertson’s Inc. likely will be the biggest purchase, reportedly worth as much as $16 billion. Among potential buyers appears to be Minneapolis-based Supervalu Inc.

But other deals are, or may be, in the works.

Marsh Supermarkets Inc., which recorded a third-quarter loss of $3.4 million, has announced that it may put itself on the market.

In addition, Sheboygan, Wis.-based Fresh Brands Inc., operator of Piggly Wiggly and Dick’s Supermarkets in Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa, said Dec. 6 that it had agreed to be acquired by an affiliate of Chicago-based Certified Grocers Midwest, a grocery wholesale cooperative that services about 350 stores, for about $100 million.

Freehold, N.J.-based Foodarama Supermarkets Inc., which runs ShopRite stores in New Jersey, has an offer to be taken private by a group put together by the company’s founder.

The recent flurry of activity really has nothing to do with the season, or any desire to get things done before the end of the year, said Neil Stern, senior partner in Chicago-based retail consultant McMillan/Doolittle LLP.

It has more to do with business cycles, he said.

Troubled times for some retailers — some analysts have blamed the emergence of the superstore concept, most notably exemplified by Wal-Mart Stores Inc., for having lured consumers out of traditional retail grocery stores — have made headlines in recent years.

Last February, Winn-Dixie Stores Inc. filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy and began the process of selling off less-profitable units. In September, the Montvale, N.J.-based Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. restructured its management. A&P also sold off some of its assets this year, as it refocused its marketing strategy.

Perhaps the largest tremor in the industry was the Sept. 2 announcement from Albertsons, the third-largest retailer in the U.S., that it might sell.

It wasn’t a revolutionary pose for the 2,300-store chain, which already had sold about 600 stores in the past four years.

Three groups of private-equity firms were expected to have offers for Albertsons ready soon. According to the Reuters news service, a final outcome of the bidding wasn’t expected before the end of the year.

One group expected to put in a bid for Albertsons in its entirety includes Apollo Management, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Texas Pacific Group, according to Reuters.

Also reported to be in the running is a consortium that includes Cerberus Capital Management, Kimco Realty and Supervalu.

A third group likely will include California investor Ron Burkle’s Yucaipa investment company and the Dubai Investment Group. Yucaipa has built a reputation for executing chain-store mergers and currently owns Jurgensen’s, Falley’s and Alpha Beta, among other chains, according to Hoovers Online. Earlier this year, Yucaipa acquired a 40% stake in Pathmark Stores Inc., Carteret, N.J.

“I think these deals are going to be large enough and complex enough that there will not be a single buyer,” Stern said. “I think you’re very likely to see whoever wins will be a consortium of various private equity groups with potentially some strategic buyers.”