Asda lorry

Asda has undergone quite the volte-face in recent weeks. After stripping back its Smart Price range last year, it was shamed into a backtrack by food blogger Jack Monroe, hurriedly restocking SP lines and making them available online once again.

Now it’s doubling down on this renewed commitment to value – with plans for a new budget own-label range called Just Essentials that’s double the size, at over 300 lines.

Overlooking the fact that Just Essentials sounds a bit like the value range of the upmarket Waitrose, it’s well timed, with the cost of living crisis already causing fruit & veg sales to fall, amid predictions that 1.3 million people will be pushed into absolute poverty, as prices and costs soar. Having extra lines will take the fight back to the turf on which it’s most comfortable: value. This week it was also first out of the blocks to cut fuel prices following the duty cuts announced in the Chancellor’s Spring Statement – a return to the sort of price leadership that was once common but which has been markedly absent in recent times.

On the other hand, this expansion comes as the discounters have scaled back their value ranges in recent years, taking the fight to the big four with a focus on the mid-tier, and the near full shop, and in turn prompting the big four to follow suit.

What’s more extraordinary, though, is the speed at which Asda wants to do this. In a supplier presentation last week, it admitted the original plan was to roll out its new Just Essentials range over the summer, but decided to “go quicker” because it wanted to show shoppers “we are with them all the way”.

The move speaks to the energy and urgency the Issa brothers have brought to their forecourt retail empire. But if Asda colleagues have struggled with this cultural change, suppliers will find it even harder. In the best of times, just implementing basic packaging changes at this speed is unrealistic (and would cause huge waste), let alone developing and getting sign-off on new lines. In these worst of times, however, amid soaring prices and chronic key ingredient shortages, the timescales are so unrealistic, it makes Asda look completely out of touch.