Clive Beddall, Bentonville, Arkansas Wal-Mart's financial muscle is enabling Asda to offer UK consumers unbeatable bargains on non foods, chief operating officer Tony DeNunzio told international colleagues at the shareholders convention on Thursday. Cheered on by 150 UK colleagues, DeNunzio claimed the Leeds-based chain had achieved significant synergies by organising joint buying missions with non-food purchasing teams from Wal-Mart. "Two thousand lines have been sourced jointly with Wal-Mart and these delivered prices unheard of in the UK market," he told the convention. Like-for-like non-food sales had risen 30% since last autumn. He also told colleagues the Leeds chain had grown faster than any other UK supermarket chain during the past 12 months. And it was still on course to overhaul Sainsbury and take second spot in the UK multiples league. And DeNunzio claimed Asda had achieved "number two position for volume food and clothing sales" in what he described as "an amazing year" for the company. Asda, he added, had been able to expand rapidly into new speciality areas such as pharmacies, opticians, jewellery and photo departments. By the end of 2002 it will have over 100 jewellery departments, 70 photo shops, 80 vision centres and 80 pharmacies. And in an obvious reference to Asda winning The Grocer 33 award for best value for the fifth successive year, DeNunzio thanked colleagues for the "tremendous efforts" in delivering the best store standards and shortest-ever queues at a time when the chain was growing rapidly. The session was continuing as this report was compiled, but Asda and Wal-Mart executives alike were honouring their usual custom and refusing to comment on suggestions they were planning a new stores deal in the UK. However, there was nevertheless ongoing press speculation, and it was perhaps no coincidence that more UK analysts and commentators than usual were at the convention. {{NEWS }}