Sheila Eggleston Out of stocks have been the most disruptive feature in The Grocer 33 weekly shop in the past six months. Product delistings and promotional activity have been the main aggravating factors, and frozen food most badly hit. In the six months from June to November 2001, our survey shows Asda is still the best value supermarket accounting for 12 of the cheapest full baskets.However, these were the only full baskets Asda checked in because of out of stocks. Safeway and Tesco weren't the cheapest but they had a better record on supplying full baskets, checking in 14 apiece, with Somerfield snapping at their heels with 12. Asda again had fewer out of stocks than the other chains with 24 in 30 shopping trips, but this was 10 more than in the previous six months. From pole position a year ago and third place six months ago, Sainsbury sank to the bottom of our table with 56 out of stocks in 31 shopping trips. Nine were the result of dropping 18-pack Persil Tablets at the end of September, and a further nine were frozen food lines. Waitrose delisted this pack size of Persil Tablets at around the same time, and delisted Jacob's Creek Shiraz Cabernet wine in early September which also affected its basket performance. It had 34 missing lines out of 17 trips. Eight were frozen, the rest mainly the result of the delistings. Morrisons fared better with nine out of stocks out of 17 trips. These were mainly bacon, difficult to hunt down until the chain repackaged it. A good example of how promotions can affect stock levels is Anchor Spreadable. Since June this line has been missing from stores on 25 occasions ­ equivalent to one a week since June ­ purely through the promotional activity driven by New Zealand Milk to regain brand leadership from Arla's Lurpak. But such promotions kept the bills low. The few price hikes in the period included the 5p manufacturer's increase on Hovis wholemeal in June followed by a further 5p hike in September. All the multiples responded to the need to increase the price of bread. FMD caused mature Cheddar prices to rise in July. In Sainsbury and Somerfield they rose by 13p for 250g, and in Asda and Tesco by 11p and 12p respectively. These rises, however, were counterbalanced by price cuts on Andrex toilet rolls and bacon. Andrex was slashed 14%, bringing the price down to £1.69 in most stores. Recent promotions in Morrisons and Somerfield brought the price down a further 14p. Meanwhile, bacon prices have stabilised with Asda, Morrisons and Tesco consistently offering a low price of around £1.68 for 250g, plus a raft of buy two for less money deals have been available. The past six months emanated a strong feeling of déjà vu. Aisle congestion, unmanned checkouts, surly staff and pricing errors have continued to be prevalent. In this period 26 pricing errors were recorded and 17 were overcharges, and fresh produce remains the worse offender. The Midlands, the south west and East Anglia fared best with one mistake apiece. The worst areas were Scotland with eight and the north west with six. Four of the latter's were laid at Somerfield's door because of its Stretford store's inability to charge the right price for potatoes. The message got through to HQ. In this week's shop our shopper had no problems. Sainsbury and Somerfield did worse overall on pricing errors with Asda close behind. Fresh produce was sometimes of such poor quality it wasn't worth putting into the basket. The lack of country of origin was another headache. The past six months have been dominated by major store makeovers and the introduction of new stores onto our store roster. These have contributed to the chaos in store causing aisle congestion. The latter is also attributed to the constant replenishing of shelves by staff, plus the pile-it-high philosophy on specials ­ usually at the end of aisles for shoppers to trip over. Checkout speeds improved with all the retailers making better times, except for Asda at 6.3 minutes. Tesco has overtaken Safeway this time around to whizz customers through in 4.9 minutes. Marks awarded by our shoppers for clean and tidy stores and staff attitude have dropped since June, the lowest scores being given for the latter. Asda's staff got top average marks of 9.1, a fraction ahead of Tesco. This score was also given to Waitrose for the cleanest and tidiest store with Tesco again a close second with 8.9. {{GROCER 33 }}