Asda says it will overtake Sainsbury to become the number two player in the UK market by the end of this year. Interviewed by The Grocer's editor Clive Beddall at Food and Drink Expo in Birmingham, Asda deputy chief operating officer Richard Baker said: "In terms of value share, Sainsbury is a smidgen ahead of us. In volume share, there's nothing to choose between Asda and Sainsbury. "We're growing at three to four times their rate. It's just a matter of time, but we're aiming to be number two by the end of 2002. I'm very confident we'll do it this year." Schroder Salomon Smith Barney analyst Dave McCarthy said Baker had every reason to be bullish: "If you compare the four-week period ending early March 2001, the gap between them was 3.1%. For the same four week period in 2002, it narrowed to just 1.7%. "Obviously, this only compares a month, but it shows that in value terms, Asda is eroding the gap all the time." Baker said Asda ultimately aimed to have a supercentre "within 30 minutes drive of 90% of the British population". This would amount to about 60 supercentres ­ a concept he described as "the most successful retail format in the UK". Asked about Wal-Mart's next move in Europe, Baker said there "hadn't been too many bargains around," after Wal-Mart's acquisition of Asda in 1999 sent share prices through the roof. However, Wal-Mart would stump up the cash if the right opportunity arose: "If British management sees a worthwhile opportunity in the UK, there won't be any shortage of funds." He admitted online shopping represented "an investment rather than a profit generator" for Asda, which recently closed picking centres in Croydon and Watford to focus on a store based fulfilment system. "No one knows what percentage of the market will be home shopping, but we want a share of it," said Baker. "However, we will only grow it at a speed that economics allow." {{NEWS }}