Tesco has beaten Sainsbury's in the race to get the first English asparagus into stores this year.

Asparagus grown by S&A Davies in Worcestershire hit shelves in Tesco's Evesham store last week, beating the previous record by four weeks, the retailer claimed.

Rival Sainsbury's was left red-faced having claimed only a day earlier that "Britain's earliest-ever asparagus crop" would be hand-delivered to its stores on 14 March.

The retailer, which is supplied by Staffordshire-based grower New Farm Produce, said this was a six-week improvement on 2006.

The first asparagus normally arrives in mid-March and the English season officially begins in May.

Over the past few years, competition has intensified to be the first to get English asparagus on shelf and the unofficial start of the season has become earlier and earlier.

"Over the past five years the race to get the first English asparagus in store has been viewed by farmers as similar to the Beaujolais wine run in which British vintners race to France to bring back the first bottles," said Simon Dryell, Tesco's senior buying manager for the Midlands.

Growers supplying both chains credited more efficient production techniques for the earlier-than-usual start to the season.

Growing consumer demand for the vegetable has encouraged growers to try and lengthen the season.

"Lots of people want a long British asparagus season and there's a lot of demand," said James Hallett, chairman of the British Asparagus Campaign. "It's not easy to do, but it's crucial to get the quality right."

Last year, household penetration rose two points to 14.3% year-on-year [TNS]. Shoppers are also spending an average of £2.02 on asparagus per trip, a rise of 3% since 2006.

Greater volumes were being planted as there was not enough English crop to meet demand, said Hallett.