Why Asda will be adopting a Dragons' Den-style approach to product sourcing at this year's IFE

It's easy to think that because of the credit crunch and fall in disposable incomes we all need to batten down the hatches .

But as always, in adversity there is opportunity, whether it be finding smart ways to cut costs, or coming up with a solution that provides customers with a little respite in a world that can all seem rather doom and gloom at the moment.

That's why we are throwing our weight behind this year's IFE09 - the UK's largest food and drink trade show. This is the first time Asda has gone down this route for product sourcing, but I'm confident it will yield positive results.

Buyers from three of our ambient grocery categories will be holding Dragon's Den-style events to unearth the most interesting, high-quality and cost effective manufacturers from across the UK and internationally. We'll also come face-to-face with potential producers that we would not normally get a chance to see. With Pro2Pac there too, we'll be on the lookout for smart ways to cut packaging in order to save money on production costs so that I can feed these back to my customers through lower prices.

So who is likely to get past the Asda dragons? You won't be surprised to hear that creating value both for Asda and our customers is key. The partners we select have to be able to deliver on our core customer proposition - saving you money every day - which is why we go to such lengths to select the best fit for our business, regardless of the manufacturer's size or stature.

Often, like on the programme itself, it's the least likely suspects that come up with the goods. Of course working with industry heavyweights has its benefits too - R&D capabilities, reputation, reliability and sophisticated marketing campaigns to name a few.

But flexibility, fleet of foot, reliability, creativity and cost efficiency are equally important, and are often the qualities smaller suppliers can lead on. In the food industry, innovation has many faces, the most recognisable of which is the catch-all term 'NPD'. This in itself has many guises - brand extensions, truly new lines or simply clever imitations.

However, when it comes to trading through the credit crunch, there are other areas of NPD that should be considered. One of the lesser-travelled routes to innovation is analysing in detail the supply chain itself. Looking at how value can be increased and costs cut throughout the whole supply chain is the best long-term strategy for both retailers and manufacturers. There are a number of key elements that can help make this a reality.

Eighteen months ago we decided to cut our own-label packaging 25%. Sounds easy when you say it quickly, doesn't it? But it was a mammoth task that required Asda and its supply base to remove 47,000 tonnes of card and plastic without compromising on quality. We hit our target, and all feel a little greener, but it also had other advantages. By cutting packaging, we focused on showing customers the product rather than hiding it. We saved £10m by using fewer materials . And we realised that setting tough targets helped us find out more about ourselves.

My challenge to you is this. Use the downturn as an opportunity to challenge everything you do. Ask tough questions. Just because we've always done it like that, is it the best way? You might just be surprised.

Ian Martin is general manager of frozen foods at Asda.