One of the region's largest supermarket operators might be in play -- again.

Two news outlets are reporting that Bi-Lo's owner has put the Upstate-based chain up for sale, just a few months after the grocer emerged from bankruptcy protection.

Bi-Lo is owned by Lone Star Funds, a private equity investment firm headquartered in Dallas.

The news service Reuters and the trade publication Supermarket News each reported the possible sale this week. They cited unidentified sources who are familiar with the matter.

Lone Star bought Bi-Lo from Dutch retail group Ahold in 2005. The grocery chain, with 15,100 employees in 207 stores, sought protection from creditors in March 2009 after it was unable to either refinance or repay a $260 million loan that was coming due.

The Mauldin-based chain emerged from bankruptcy protection in May after winning court approval of its reorganization plan. The financial restructuring allowed it to keep open nearly all of its locations throughout the Southeast and maintain its headquarters in the Greenville area, where the grocer has a huge civic presence.

Bi-Lo operates about 15 stores in the Charleston region.

At one point last fall, the owner of rival grocer Food Lion, Belgium-based Delhaize Group, offered to acquire most of Bi-Lo's supermarkets in South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, but that deal was later scuttled.

Reuters named Kroger Co. and Publix Super Markets Inc. as being among the potential buyers this time around.

Publix told Supermarket News that the Lakeland, Fla-based company was not actively involved in the purchase of Bi-Lo. Kroger was not immediately available for comment. Lone Star Funds would not comment, according to the reports, Reuters said.

Bi-Lo was founded in 1964.

The Greenville News contributed to this report.