Tesco was voted Britain’s Favourite Supermarket at The Grocer Gold Awards, but our new methodology delivers further insights, says Beth Phillips

Tesco is officially Britain's Favourite Supermarket. Again. In the only Grocer Gold Award judged by shoppers, Lucy Neville-Rolfe, the retailer's corporate and legal affairs director, collected the gong for a staggering sixth year running at the awards ceremony on Wednesday.

But the margin of victory was the closest ever, as a new award methodology was introduced to make the process of selecting Britain's Favourite Supermarket reflect both the needs and priorities of UK shoppers.

The result was a mere 0.5 percentage point gap between Tesco and Asda, its nearest rival. The battle for third was even tighter, with Morrisons pipping Sainsbury's by just 0.4 points to take third for the first time.

So how did consumers reach their decision? What constitutes a favourite? And what further insight into each of the supermarkets can we take from the poll, conducted exclusively for The Grocer by The Nielsen Company and based on the survey of 4,534 shoppers?

This year, we increased the number of categories by which shoppers assessed their 'favourite' from six to eight, adding new categories that were considered more relevant to today's shoppers and were designed to delve deeper into what constitutes a favourite, explains Justin Sargent, consumer group MD, Nielsen UK & Ireland.

"We introduced value for money, promotions and deals, and shopping experience as new criteria, with the latter replacing availability as a catch-all," he says.

Crucially, the results were weighted: shoppers were asked to rank the eight categories in terms of importance, so retailers who performed strongly in the categories deemed most important to shoppers were rewarded accordingly.

Shoppers judged value for money as the most important category, followed by quality of food and prices in joint second.

As the table shows, while Tesco ranked first overall, it failed to secure the top spot in the three categories deemed most important to shoppers, while Asda was victorious in two.

Tesco triumphed thanks to its greater consistency overall, ranking number one in four of the eight categories customer service, promotions and deals, range of products and shopping experience; number two in two categories prices and value for money; and number three in one category, ethics. It was Asda's failure to score consistently high marks that cost it the overall number one spot.

Tesco's victory shows that the nation's biggest retailer may not be perfect, but is consistently good, says Neville-Rolfe.

"We pay enormous attention to the shoppers' every need," she adds. "We listen hard and are not afraid to change course."

And while its first-quarter like-for-like sales growth of 1.1%, announced this week was flat, at least it remains positive a feat Asda was unable to achieve.

'Too powerful'
A YouGov poll released this week revealed the British public are unable to agree on their opinion about the retail giant. Some 45% attributed Tesco's success to its cheap, varied food choices and ability to create jobs, but 43% felt it was "too powerful", "pushes down prices for producers" and "drives out competition from smaller shops".

And there's also a clear geographical split behind Tesco's popularity. The Nielsen data reveals Tesco was the favourite in north Scotland, Wales, Anglia, London, the south and the south west. Asda, meanwhile, came out top in central Scotland, Tyne Tees, Lancashire, Yorkshire and the Midlands.

Tesco will also be looking nervously over its shoulder at Morrisons in third place, believes Sargent.

"Morrisons edging ahead of Sainsbury's for the first time is reflective of its success in the past 18 months," he says.

"Our retail tracking figures have seen Morrisons increase share and deliver year-on-year sales growth consistently ahead of the market, and this survey reaffirms this. Morrisons has come third on prices, promotions and deals, and value for money, which is where the retailer positions itself. Two of these areas have been ranked as most important to consumers, so it will have picked up points. Basically, the retailer is focusing on what is important to shoppers right now."

When shoppers were asked which retailer they thought had improved the most over the past 12 months Morrisons came out the clear winner, with 14% of the vote. Sainsbury's (9%), and Asda and The Co-operative Group (both 8%) were next in line in terms of improvement.

Shoppers were also asked to assess the strength of supermarkets in key categories. Morrisons came top in two, impressing shoppers with its fresh fruit and veg, and meat, fish and poultry lines again areas of particular focus for the retailer. Tesco was top in three categories: beers, wines and spirits; health, beauty and personal care; and non-grocery. Marks & Spencer ranked first for ready meals while Iceland came first for frozen goods.

Changing perceptions
The results prove that the long-term perceptions shoppers build of certain retailers can change, says Sargent.

"People have perceptions of retailers that will stay with them over a period of time, which will be based on a number of things such as their own direct experience," he says.

"But the grocery marketplace is very dynamic, very fast to react and adapt to macro issues such as the economy or the environment, so shoppers' perceptions will change as the retailers position themselves and meet ever-changing shopper needs."

The big four aren't having it all their own way either, he adds. Although Tesco and Asda ranked first in six of the eight categories between them, the remaining two quality of food and ethics were topped by M&S and The Co-operative Group respectively.

Being the biggest doesn't ultimately qualify as being the best. Competition is strong and shoppers are expecting more from their supermarket. Tesco has a fight on its hands if it is to retain the title for a seventh year.

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