Asda made three attempts to acquire Safeway in the 1990s - not two as the industry has always believed.
This is just one of the many revelations made by David Webster, former Safeway chairman and current chairman of the InterContinental Hotels Group, in an exclusive interview with The Grocer.
Talking about the highs and lows at the supermarket chain, which is now part of Morrisons, the 59-year-old former solicitor and corporate finance manager said that the first talks between Safeway and Asda took place as early as 1991, when John Hardman was still Asda chief executive. They were followed by a second round of negotiations at the beginning of the Archie Norman-Allan Leighton era and a third after Sir Alistair Grant retired in 1997 and Webster became chairman.
Had the talks come off, said Webster, things might have been very different for Safeway. “At the time, the market lacked a large scale price-based operator. And Asda had been just that. It never crossed our minds, but we should have bought into Asda, converted Safeway to Asda and thus, with our scale, reverted to Asda-price. That would have restored one of the strongest brands on the market.”
He added that he was convinced that Wal-Mart had looked at Tesco and Sainsbury first before making a move on Asda and was “glad for UK retailing” that a deal between the Bentonville colossus and Tesco had not come off.
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