Five years on from its launch, The Grocer 33 shopping survey has won huge respect from across the industry as the definitive barometer of supermarket pricing. Store chiefs lavished plaudits on the survey for its fifth birthday, praising it as "required reading" and essential to gauging store performance. And in Britain's intensely competitive supermarket sector, it is all the more remarkable that Asda has throughout held on to its best value crown. Once again it has triumphed over its rivals, accounting for 26 of the cheapest full baskets, two more than last year. The Wal-Mart subsidiary's record for out of stocks and instore performance by staff is also exemplary. But the other contenders in the race were hard on its heels in delivering full baskets. Asda's 27 were under pressure from Safeway at 26 and Somerfield with 25. Meanwhile Morrisons, with fewer visits than the top five chains, checked in 24. Tesco's total of cheapest full baskets fell by five, the gainers being Asda, Morrisons, Safeway and the Co-ops in the past six months. Waitrose and the Co-ops had the fewest of visits but the Co-ops checked in seven full baskets out of 11 trips and three were the cheapest. Waitrose's record suffered from fewer store visits and its discontinuation of Jacob's Creek Shiraz Cabernet and 18-packs of Persil Tablets, the latter now dropped by its supplier and replaced by 24s. A major overhaul of Andrex toilet tissue last summer slashed its price by 14% to reflect a change in its manufacture and the price of a four-pack dropped from £1.97 to £1.69. But due to the fierce price competition between the stores, this week in Asda it was a low £1.54. Fruit and veg variations due to seasonality were inevitable and poor weather hitting tomatoes in the Med in March caused a glitch in pricing. This year's poor harvests affected beans and tomatoes and helped push up the price of own label baked beans. Higher priced 500g packs of Kellogg's Corn Flakes appeared in April, rising 9p and 11p, sparking a dispute between supplier and retailer as to who was responsible. Birds Eye frozen peas, Nescafé 100g, Tetley teabags and Walkers crisps are all cheaper than 1997, while the "reassuringly expensive" Stella Artois has held its price most of the time in spite of frequent deals continuing. This week's bargains on the lager were found at Tesco, Asda and Morrisons, priced between £3.92 and £3.98. But there are signs of more price increases on the way. In January, the first indication of hefty rises in fish prices: an 8p-9p price hike on 10-packs of Birds Eye cod fish fingers was spotted. Birds Eye said this was the first rise since 1998, solely because of the demand for white fish and its limited supply. Market conditions meant prices could rise higher. At the checkout the same old mistakes are still happening ­ fruit miraculously becoming veg at the till, misleading shelf-edge prices, plus a run of faulty scanning. Forty-three checkout errors were recorded for the year, eight less than last year. Sainsbury, Somerfield and Asda are still the worst offenders. In Asda's case when it overcharged twice in one week, it was still cheapest. Waitrose and the Co-ops were the star performers having no errors at all this year. Out of stocks continue to proliferate, mainly due to promotions outstripped by demand. While frozen food was once the key offender, basic lines such as milk and eggs have begun to creep in. Bogofs, extra free deals and money-off promotions all fuelled the problems. Take Nescafé 100g's 15%-off promotion in four retailers, 20% off wine deals in Tesco, Safeway's high:low policy showing no abatement, and Sainsbury, the Co-ops and Morrisons shouting about at least 50 items either on bogof or at permanent low prices. However, the high:low pricing did go a bit too far at Safeway. In February it was forced to launch a nationwide check of its prices after one shopper found six items heavily overpriced at its Swinton, Manchester store. Asda had the best record on out of stocks for the second year running, having 42 in 59 trips. Safeway, a close second, again continues to snap at its heels with 56 missing lines in 60 trips. Morrisons had fewer visits than the top five but in 39 trips had only 22 out of stocks. Safeway has maintained its ability to get customers speedily through the checkout, shaving 0.2 minutes off last year's whizz. And although Tesco showed signs six months ago of overtaking, it has now slipped to third place behind Somerfield. Scoring between the chains was closer than ever before for clean and tidy stores and staff behaviour, but marks were falling in the main. Quality of fruit and veg helped to mark stores down. Recent congestion because of a larger number of refurbs than usual did not help. But scant attention at the checkout was the main bugbear as cashiers pushed goods through too quickly, offered no packer, and then made checkout mistakes. Also not enough checkouts to cope with volume of shoppers increased the tension. Asda's staff got top marks with an average score of 9 out of 10, and second to Waitrose on the clean and tidy front, a category which Waitrose has consistently shone at. To start a new year of The Grocer 33, we are launching an expanded and improved version of the survey. Don't miss next week's issue. {{GROCER 33 }}