Sheila Eggleston Asda has again emerged as Britain's best value supermarket, accounting for 24 of the cheapest baskets reported in The Grocer 33 shopping survey during the past year. The only blot on Asda's phenomenal record came this week, when we repeated our orginal survey and the Wal-Mart subsidiary failed to supply the cheapest basket (see previous page). Asda also led the field when it came to availability, accounting for 34 full baskets in the past year. Arch rival Tesco has been snapping at Asda's heels on the availability front during the past year, with 31 full baskets. However, only 13 of these baskets have beaten the other chains on price. Our survey has also demonstrated how competition in the sector has been growing stiffer during the past 12 months. In December, Sainsbury took £1 off the price of medium 1.6kg frozen chicken to fall into line with other chains. And when Asda knocked 2p off a can of own label baked beans, Tesco was the first in a long line to follow suit. Promotions have been prolific since our six months review in December. Safeway has continued its deep price cutting activity and Somerfield has marched on with its megadeals. Bogofs and three for two deals have abounded, with bacon at Sainsbury and Somerfield used regularly as promotional tools, while money-off promotions have been prominent at Morrisons. However, The Grocer 33 has also been hit by a series of price increases and fall-out from foot and mouth disease. These hikes came on top of the increases recorded between June and November on Andrex toilet rolls and Kleenex tissues. In February a pint of milk went up by 1p to 27p. Soon after, Kellogg pushed through its first increase on cereals in two years, which put the price of 500g Corn Flakes up by 4p. Another 1p increase on milk in April because of FMD increased our bill further. Fresh produce was hit by home grown onions soaring by 6p/454g and mushrooms between 2p and 8p/454g in April. And banana prices suffered their first increase in more than three years, with 49p/454g being the average price paid, although in Safeway it was as high as 54p/454g. For a short time 300g Dutch bacon at Somerfield rocketed from £2.69 to £3.89 ­ again because of FMD. Foot and mouth outbreaks also made shopping difficult for a few weeks. Our mystery shoppers reported brisk business at meat counters and panic buying, particularly in the south east of England, causing out of stocks. Safeway, which has been proud of its out of stocks record, has struggled to keep ahead this year, although it would seem to have solved out of stocks in the freezer. Only seven missing lines in its total out of stock tally of 57 were frozen products. However Safeway forged ahead of the others at the checkout, whizzing customers through in an average 5.6 minutes. Scores on quality have been fairly high in the second half of the year, although nothing has changed our mystery shoppers' minds about what makes them see red. Aisles congested with packing trolleys rather than customers, unmanned tills, unreliable carrier bags and unhelpful staff have been some of the reasons cited for poor scores. But accidental overcharging, undercharging and no charging is still the biggest headache our shoppers face. The number of cases rose to 28 in the past six months, and 51 for the year. Sainsbury was the only store to have a clean record. Tesco had the worst record with six cases. The worst region was the south west where our shopper suffered on seven occasions, and the best was the Midlands with only one case. Fresh produce attracted the most errors, with 12 recorded over the past six months, mainly through mislabelling of shelf edges. Chains such as Waitrose, Morrisons and the Co-op have fewer visits to their stores because of the restrictions on sites available. Waitrose maintains its record as the cleanest and tidiest store with an average mark of 9.4 out of 10, but the Co-op was rewarded for its helpful staff with 9.6, followed by Waitrose and Tesco. Our visits to newly built stores ­ such as Morrisons at Ipswich, Asda's Patchway supercentre and Safeway, Woking ­ show the chains are investing in wider aisles and more checkouts. {{GROCER 33 }}