American Stores Co. Friday extended its $45 per share cash tender offer for all outstanding shares of Lucky Stores Inc. only hours before it was due to expire.

The tender offer and withdrawal rights, due to expire at midnight April 22, will now expire at midnight (EDT) April 29, unless further extended, the company said.Salt Lake -based American Stores launched a $1.74 billion unsolicited tender offer for the Dublin, Calif., based grocery store chain on March 21, later saying it was prepared to boost the cash-for-stock ante to $50 per share some $1.9 billion if a friendly merger could be worked out. Both offers have, so far, been spurned by Lucky's board.

American Stores Co. said 71,504 shares of Lucky Stores stock had been tendered as of April 21. Lucky has 38.44 million shares outstanding.

For the first time since launching the takeover last month, American Stores indicated in a statement Friday that its wholly owned subsidiary, Alpha Beta Stores, was making the offer, not the parent company itself.

The combination of American, the nation's third-largest grocery retailer with 1,700 stores and annual sales of $15 billion, and Lucky, the sixth-largest with 480 stores and sales of $7 billion, could produce the largest grocery retailer in the country if the merger goes through.

American Stores said it also has agreed with the Federal Trade Commission to extend the waiting period applicable to the tender offer to provide the commission additional time to study the transaction.

Under the agreement, American Stores Co. can cause the waiting period to terminate any time after 11:59 p.m., EDT on Friday, May 6.

Lucky Stores has been cool to American's offer since the day it was made, and seemed to reject it outright on April 8 when it launched a special "poison pill" plan that would give shareholders extra shares if a takeover were attempted.

Initially, the company said it wanted to remain independent but then immediately filed documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission indicating it was talking with new third parties about selling the chain.

Last Wednesday, Lucky issued a statement saying it is still reviewing alternatives to the American offer "with a view to providing Lucky stockholders with greater value."

Lucky said it continues to have discussions with unnamed third parties and was also talking with various lenders about the possibility of a leveraged recapitalization of the company.