Asda continues the inexorable rise of the multinationals.
Supermarket chain Asda is to challenge Tesco's mounting dominance with a new chain of discount food stores across the country. Britain's second biggest grocery chain, which is part of the US Wal-Mart empire, will announce plans for hundreds of the new-look stores next week.
The stores will be a direct challenge to Tesco's Express and Sainsbury's Local convenience stores which have been so successful in recent years.
This intensification of competition in the sector is also likely to reignite the debate over whether the big supermarket chains are changing the face of Britain's high streets - squeezing out small, local operators who are unable to match the buying power of the big chains.
They will be one of a series of initiatives designed to mount a more effective challenge to the dominance of Tesco, which now has a market share of more than 30%. In the past 12 months Asda's trade has stood still. Asda's new outlets have yet to be named, though the first will be opened in Northampton next month. The supermarket group has been developing the concept using the codename "Project Disco".
In size terms, the new stores are likely to average 7,000-10,000 sq ft - slightly larger than Express and Local outlets. Until now Asda has sold food and clothing only from superstores of 80,000 sq ft and larger. The new stores are understood to have been modelled on a successful French chain called Leaderprice.
The aim is to create the cheapest chain of food shops in town, undercutting even discounters such as Aldi and Netto. A source close to Asda said: "Store managers will be given the power to fix prices at a local level in order to ensure Asda is charging the lowest prices in the area."
Asda intends to find high street and retail park locations for the new chain and it is understood that the company is prepared to open some stores next to Tesco outlets in order to mount a direct challenge and lure away Tesco shoppers. The new stores are the first significant initiative from chief executive Andy Bond, who took over at Asda this year.
Asda's Mr Bond and Mr Fitzsimmons are likely to insist their new venture is not a move into convenience stores and will instead label them "community" discount stores.
Although it's tempting to feel that my enemies enemy is my friend, Asda is if possible even worse than Tesco. If Asda intends to fix prices so that they are lower than anywhere else, many of those in the supply chain are going to suffer. Also going to suffer are the local competitors, who don't have a chance to compete with such prices. The only "winner" is the consumer, who as always is the one who matters.
The corporate takeover of Britain is almost entirely complete. Unless something is done soon, the only "choice" we are going to have is between the likes of Tesco and Asda, both predatory firms with dubious human rights records, who keep huge amounts of information on the customer which they sell on for huge amounts of money. While you have big brother watching you on CCTV, you have big brother happily sitting in your wallet as your "Clubcard". Most of all, Tesco and Asda don't care about the implications on the towns which they move in on, as traditional jobs are lost as well as the character and individuality of the town. They claim that they are creating jobs, when they are simply just employing either feckless teenagers or re-employing those who have lost their jobs as a result of the superstore.
It's not too late. The best way to say no to such companies is to use the local shops which do remain; you might be surprised that they are actually cheaper and have better quality produce. Support local farmers markets or services such as organic box deliveries. Fair trade shops are also increasingly springing up. And if you must shop at Tesco or Asda or similar, don't use a "loyalty" card. The less information they have on you, the better.