There are some who say Asda has been let off way too lightly by the Adjudicator. This was not a range review like Tesco’s Project Reset, with slow, methodical use of Clubcard data to identify brands that failed to cut the mustard with consumers. Project Renewal was nothing more than a ‘renewal’ of the threatening and bullying behaviour – behaviour that had previously prompted the GCA to investigate Tesco – that GSCOP was supposed to eradicate, conducted in haste, to extract vast sums from its suppliers.
But let’s put to one side Christine Tacon’s argument that Asda’s thorough investigation (reviewing 14 million emails apparently) and Damascene conversion was sufficient to warrant a pardon. And let’s accept her logic that suppliers would rather have a refund than see Asda pay a fine that benefits only the Treasury’s coffers (though I can’t see why she couldn’t secure both).
The bit I struggle with is the fact that, while Asda’s front door has been spinning like Hurricane Irma, with another 300 staff in its increasingly echoey HQ receiving their marching orders this week, no one has left as a result of Project Renewal. In the GCA’s report Tacon heavily criticised the role of consultants Bain & Co, who had been brought in to do Asda’s dirty work. And it’s clearly convenient for Asda to lay the blame on Asda’s side exclusively at the door of ex-CEO Andy Clarke, since he was the architect of Project Renewal, and has now left.
But Tacon also felt it was “not clear why certain material produced by the consultants was not challenged at any level within Asda, at design, delivery or implementation stages”.
It can’t just be the footsoldiers who were responsible. Who brought Bain & Co in? And if Bain did generate all this money, it should have either improved Asda’s competitiveness, or improved the bottom line. But as we’ve seen it did neither.
In 2011, Asda came last in the Advantage Survey. In 2015, it came first. Two years later, it was last again. So all Project Renewal has done is to trash its relationships with suppliers. What a mess.