(Bloomberg) -- Japanese convenience store operator Lawson Inc. is exploring strategic options for its China operation, people with knowledge of the matter said, as consumption in the country recovers after Covid lockdowns.

The Tokyo-based firm has held talks with advisers as it weighs possibilities to boost growth in the China unit, including introducing strategic partners and selling minority stakes, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private.

Deliberations are preliminary and Lawson could decide against any deal, according to the people. A representative for Lawson said there is no specific discussion at the moment.

Shares of Lawson rose as much as 1.2% in Tokyo on Friday, giving the company a market value of about $3.9 billion.

Lawson opened its first Chinese store with a Shanghai location in 1996, according to its annual report. It had 5,540 stores in the country by the end of November 2022, its quarterly report shows. 

The company reported net sales of 9.3 billion yuan ($1.4 billion) from China operation in fiscal 2021, according to the annual report. Lawson is targeting 10,000 locations in the country by fiscal 2025, and flagged opportunities for mergers & acquisitions as it aggressively expands its business in China, the report shows.

The abrupt end of China’s three-year Covid Zero battle, and signs that infections may have peaked, have fueled optimism around a rebound in consumption. Economists raised their forecasts for the world’s second-largest economy, predicting 5.1% growth in 2023 and 5% next year, according to a Bloomberg survey last month.

Foreign retail brands in China have been positioning themselves for growth in the country. McDonald’s China lined up $2 billion in bank loans to support further expansion in the country last year. On Wednesday the Chinese operator of Canadian coffee chain Tim Hortons agreed to acquire the exclusive rights in China to develop and sub-franchise Popeyes fried chicken. Both brands are owned by Restaurant Brands International Inc.

--With assistance from Grace Huang.

(Updates with share moves in fourth paragraph.)

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