Responsible for Asda’s successful move into the non-food format, Tony DeNunzio will be sorely missed at the retailer

One of the most liked and respected figures in grocery retail, Tony DeNunzio leaves Asda having delivered consistent growth for more than a decade and elevated the EDLP player above Sainsbury into the number two spot. “That’s quite a legacy,” Ed Garner, TNS communications director, points out.
Known for being approachable and down to earth, DeNunzio was behind the retailer’s drive into non-food formats and the development of the Asda brand by increasing its emphasis on ethical trading, healthy eating and local and regional sourcing.
Although growth has slowed recently, his achievements helped him scoop The Grocer Cup for Outstanding Business Achievement at the IGD Food Industry Awards last October. He was characteristically self-effacing: “I would like to thank 130,000 Asda colleagues. Their hard work makes Asda a great place to work and shop.”
It was all a far cry from DeNunzio’s low-key entry to the grocery world.
Most of his early roles were finance-orientated. He started out on the other side of the fence, with a series of suppliers. His first full-time post was management accountant for Unilever-owned margarine manufacturer Van Den Berghs & Jurgens, before doing stints at L’Oréal and PepsiCo.
Then came the big call. DeNunzio joined Asda in January 1994 as retail finance director, remaining involved in finance and commercial operations until he became chief operating officer in September 2001. From there he stepped up to his latest role as Asda’s president and CEO.
In the years following the Wal-Mart takeover in 1999, Asda hit the number one spot in clothing volume and began integrating much of Wal-Mart’s IT. But it has lost more and more ground to Tesco, prompting DeNunzio’s frank admission last year that Tesco’s position was unassailable - in food at least.
It was then that people started pondering where the future laid for Asda - and DeNunzio. Speculation intensified when he took on the MFI deputy chairmanship last month, but there was no sign that he was planning last week’s dramatic departure.
His influence won’t only be missed at Asda. In his role as chairman of the Department of Trade and Industry’s Retail Strategy Group, he pushed through two important changes for retailers, says Kevin Hawkins, director general of the British Retail Consortium: “It produced the Retail Policy Forum, representing retailers’ views on EU and UK legislation. It also focused on productivity and challenged the view that production is lower in the UK than in Europe or the US.”