Asda has this week been named as the country’s favourite supermarket chain by consumers, ensuring it picked up The Grocer’s inaugural Gold Award for The Grocer of the Year.

The award was based on research carried out by marketing information company ACNielsen, which collected a questionnaire from 7,133 statistically weighted households representative of the GB population to discover what shoppers thought about the major grocery retailers.

Shoppers were asked to rank retailers as best or second best on five key attributes: price, range, quality, service and shelf stocks. They were asked to choose between Asda, the Co-op, Kwik Save, Iceland, Marks and Spencer, Morrisons, Safeway, Sainsbury, Somerfield, Tesco and Waitrose.

The Wal-Mart owned grocery chain topped the list for four of the five attributes: price, range, service and stock levels, making it the number one performer in the survey overall (see table).

With the spotlight firmly on the UK grocery market since Morrisons made its bid for Safeway in January, the results of the survey have even greater significance this year. Each of the trade bidders - Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury and Tesco - is at great pains to point out how its bid would result in lower prices and a better customer offer for Safeway shoppers.

The UK’s favourite retailer accolade comes after a strong year for Asda, which continues to grab market share from rivals.

Last month Wal-Mart reported that first quarter like-for-like sales growth at Asda was in the upper single digits, excluding petrol. Growth, including petrol, was in the mid-single digits.

Wal-Mart said its UK subsidiary’s performance was boosted by aggressive pricing, development of own label lines and strong trading around key events such as the Easter period.

The UK’s number one grocery retailer, Tesco, retained second place in ACNielsen’s Attitudes to Retailers 2003 survey for the third year, coming just behind Asda in the same four areas.

According to the survey Sainsbury is still the nation’s third favourite food retailer, being voted number three on range, quality and stock levels.

Says ACNielsen director of retail services, UK and Ireland, Derek Willins: “This represents a clear message from the shoppers as to whom they feel is listening to their needs most closely - the three national retailers of Tesco, Sainsbury and Asda continually feature in the consumer shortlist this year.”

Marks and Spencer was again thought to be the best for quality. Predictably, affluent AB households rate it as number one for service as well as for quality products.

Asda has worked hard on quality, its weakest area over the past three years, but it failed to shift from third place, behind Sainsbury which remains in second place.
Less affluent C2, D, E households rate Asda highest for quality and it is seen as providing good quality products by a significant number of family households.

Morrisons and M&S have also jumped one position, on price and service respectively. This helped them to take fourth and fifth place overall.

Morrisons, favourite to take Safeway, is particularly popular with larger five-people-plus households, who rate it more highly than all other households.
The retailer has also had a great year, with the bid for Safeway raising its profile in the south and its recent announcement that like-for-like sales, including petrol, rose 8.4% for the first 14 weeks of its new financial year (6.9% excluding petrol).
Affluent AB households rate Sainsbury ahead of the all-households average for providing a good range of products.

Its main shoppers rate Tesco number two in this area.

Waitrose performs most strongly among AB, pre-family and new family households.

At the other end of the demographic scale, less affluent DE households think Kwik Save is better on price.

Kwik Save performs strongly in Wales and the West where it has a greater presence.

Sainsbury still has its work cut out attracting younger families. Post-family, older couples and singles view it as better at providing good prices than younger shoppers do. The Co-op is rated better for prices among 65-plus age groups.
Willins says the survey highlights the importance of listening to the shopper.
“The fact that retailers are hearing the message from shoppers is evidenced by the rich diversity available in the retail environment.”

This year the grocery retailing marketplace will continue to change rapidly through consolidation, different store formats, size and range.

With the future of Safeway decided by the time the next survey is carried out, it will be interesting to see whether Asda will still be the consumers’ champion.