Asda has prised open Tesco’s iron grip on the Grocer Gold Award for Britain’s Favourite Supermarket. How did it do it? Ian Quinn reports

It’s been a long time coming.

Tesco has been Britain’s Favourite Supermarket for the past six years, according to Nielsen’s Homescan-based survey for The Grocer. But this year the poll of more than 5,500 households saw Asda rated top by 19.7%, compared with Tesco’s 19.3%. And in stealing Tesco’s crown, Asda has proved not only that it has upped its game it’s shown that consumers, too, are changing.

When it comes to shopping decisions, value for money has always been important. But price is now king, while factors such as product quality and range are declining in importance to the shopper. Just 15% of households cited the quality of food as the most important factor in their decisions, a fall from last year when quality was virtually neck-and-neck with prices and value for money.

It is the first time since 2004 that Asda has won the award for Britain’s Favourite Supermarket, but in these changing times, it is no coincidence that the crown has gone to a retailer that has always placed huge emphasis on its low prices.

Since the scores are adjusted according to the current criteria, Walmart-owned Asda has reaped the rewards of its relentless battle to convince customers it is the place to go to make their spending stretch further, though it also improved its performance in terms of the quality of its food and non-food products across many areas.

The results also show a north/south divide among shoppers, with price and value for money counting for even more outside London and the South East. Asda was the overall winner in all regions of northern England, Scotland, Wales and the Midlands while Tesco came top in Anglia, London, the South and the South West.

Building on its famous bottom-slapping ‘Asda price’ campaigns, which go back to the 1970s, Asda has recently found new ways to kick its rivals’ backsides on the issue of cost-effectiveness. Last year, marketing executives at the company dreamt up the idea of refunding customers if a comparable basket of goods could be bought cheaper at one of its rivals, with Asda venturing into partnership with the independent website to allow consumers to be the judge.

At the beginning of this year the campaign was extended to guarantee such a basket would be 10% cheaper at Asda and chief executive Andy Clarke recently revealed he was seeking to extend the campaign into the nonfood sector.

Clarke told The Grocer: “To be named by shoppers as Britain’s favourite supermarket is a wonderful endorsement of all their hard work over the past 12 months to improve our quality, service and yes, to get even sharper on price.

“We know our customers love our new Chosen By You food ranges and the simplicity of our 10% Asda Price Guarantee.

He added: “We’ll keep working hard in the year ahead to live up to their expectations because we know they need us at our best.”

There were some consolations for Tesco. Despite losing out on the top spot for a change, Tesco still came out in front in four of the eight value-driven categories, garnering recognition for its range of products, shopping experience, customer service, and promotions and deals. However, one worry for Tesco will be that its shoppers see it as less improved than other retailers, whose customers all perceive their usual destinations as most improved.

Conversely Morrisons continues to be seen as the most improved retailer, chosen by 10% of households that expressed a preference, with Asda close behind.

In terms of categories Morrisons was also a unanimous winner as the best retailer for meat, fish and poultry and fresh fruit & veg. Tesco was seen as the best retailer in three categories: beers, wines and spirits; personal care and non-food.

Both Tesco and Asda shoppers thought their supermarkets best for chilled ready meals, unlike patrons of other supermarkets, who chose M&S.

It has generally been a tough year in the survey for retailers whose selling points are rooted in product quality rather than price. Sainsbury’s, M&S and Waitrose all saw slight dips in their popularity compared with last year. Elsewhere, in line with the success of Asda, there were gains for the discounters Aldi, Lidl and Iceland.

The message is clear. In the current climate, no supermarket chain can ignore the importance of price. While customers often demand quality alongside affordability, they are showing they are prepared to make compromises based on the contents of their wallets.