Belfast Telegraph

Asda begins fightback against Tesco

By Margaret Canning

Asda may be owned by the massive US retail conglomerate Wal-Mart - but despite the major muscle of its parent, it has struggled to hold its own against its supermarket rivals, particularly Tesco.

But now its fight back has begun.

Yesterday the UK's second biggest-supermarket - which has 14 stores in Northern Ireland - relaunched a revitalised version of its core Chosen By You own-brand range. Now it wants to be the go-to store for fancy foodie treats like Mediterranean bread, lemon daisy cupcakes and red pepper Wensleydale soup.

The group has introduced 500 new products and overhauled 1,000 others as part of the product facelift.

It has spent over £100m and nine months on the process, enlisting 40,000 consumers to take part in 200,000 blind tastes around the UK.

The drastic action follows on from the Gerald Ratner-esque remarks of boss Andy Clarke. He was only in the door as newly-minted chief executive, following in the footsteps of Andy Bond, when he candidly informed a journalist: "Food quality is something Asda hadn't been as focused on in the past as it should have been."

The Chosen By You range accounts for £8bn to £9bn in annual sales and competes with Tesco's Finest ranges and Sainsbury's Taste the Difference dishes. So it's clear that it was worth the company's while to plough money into the new food range.

Yet the ferocious culinary competition of other supermarkets has seen it lose market share, with latest figures from Kantar Worldpanel revealing its share dropped from 17.4% to 17.2%.

But Mr Clarke yesterday voiced a new-found evangelical belief in the food sold by Asda, in marked contrast to his earlier remarks.

"When it comes to our food, we've taken a long, hard look at our products, done a lot of listening to our customers and invested a significant amount of time, effort and money.

"No other retailer has moved so aggressively to seek not just the counsel, but the consent of the very people who buy and eat their products. We're sending out a clear message that Asda will now drive as hard on quality as it does on price."

The proof of the pudding - starter and main - will be in the eating, and how much we do of it.