Martin Flanagan: Asda draws a line under three years of pain

Martin Flanagan says Asda's boss will be breathing a sigh of relief at the chain's latest sales figures. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Martin Flanagan says Asda's boss will be breathing a sigh of relief at the chain's latest sales figures. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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More evidence of a high street squeeze emerged yesterday, with the latest official figures showing only a lukewarm rise in sales in July.

But one retailer with grounds for some cautious optimism is supermarket giant Asda. As Tesco and Morrisons have shown definite evidence of progress, and Sainsbury’s has also seemed to be gingerly getting its act together – helped by its acquisition of Argos – Asda had previously been trailing the field in recovery.

The ones who may be feeling just a tad nervous now are Aldi and Lidl

• READ MORE: Asda cheers first quarterly sales rise in three years

But the group might have just seen some light at the end of the tunnel. The retailer, owned by Walmart of the US, has reported its first quarterly like-for-like sales growth in three years.

Chief executive Sean Clarke, who took over from Andy Clarke a little over a year ago, deserves some congratulations.

Admittedly, Asda benefited from a bumper Easter, and if you stripped out that period then its sales were a more pedestrian 0.7 per cent higher. But you have got to stop the rot before you can make strides, and the Asda boss will be breathing a sigh of relief that his major price reductions and attempts to spruce up the service offering is bearing fruit.

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The ones who may be feeling just a tad nervous now are the discounters Aldi and Lidl. It is their depredations of market share that have undermined the “big four” in recent years, that and austerity-battered shoppers reining in their food shop.

But arguably Tesco, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and now Asda, have regained some trading ballast. One of the key components seems to be a tacit acceptance by the big four that they will have to weather some profit margin squeeze if they are to regain the high ground of sales and mark a line in the sand to stop the discounter plunderings.

It is too early to say this will succeed. But like-for-like sales growth seems back on the agenda among the big boys now, having done most of their various restructurings.

Blue-chip legitimacy removed

What a joy it is to see the business council titans advising President Trump jumping ship at his latest Charlottesville racist public relations disaster. The blue-chip US business community were giving him an underserved legitimacy. Not now.

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