The story of Asda is one of pioneering people with visionary ideas.
From our beginnings as the first UK discounter, offering our customers the very best value has been our driving force. We built our business upon listening to our diverse range of customers and offering what they need. We're at our best when we keep things simple. From checkout to boardroom, our colleagues are the heroes, and they've always made Asda special. Every one of us shapes the character of this company.
The Early Years
The years leading up to the formation of Asda were years of momentous meetings, partnerships forged in the heat of inspiration, big ideas, great dreams and bold actions.
Its roots can be traced back to the 1920s and just two branches, but no-one knew then quite how incredible the future would be.
In the beginning
The Asquith family (W.R. Asquith) ran a butcher’s shop in Knottingly, West Yorkshire, which was eventually expanded to seven shops. The two sons of W.R. Asquith, Peter and Fred, were actively involved in the family business and were later to become co-founders of Asda.
At the same time during the 1920s, a group of enterprising West Riding dairy farmers joined forces under the banner of Hindell’s Dairy Farmers Ltd. These included the Stockdale family (A. Stockdale).
Through a process of acquisition and diversification, a new public company was formed in 1949 – Associated Dairies & Farm Stores Ltd, with Arthur Stockdale as Managing Director.
During the 1950s and early 1960s, Associated Dairies had expanded the number of pork butchery shops (under the Farm Stores fascia) and had also created the Craven Dairies brand for its cake shops and cafes. The son of Arthur Stockdale, Noel (later to become Sir Noel Stockdale) met and struck up an immediate rapport with the Asquith brothers. He went on to become the other co-founder of the future Asda, in a meeting that would change the way we shop forever.
Peter and Fred Asquith had opened and sold their first store, and retail is in their blood. In search of inspiration, they travelled to the USA to visit Piggly Wiggly, probably the world's first supermarket. The trip was a revelation that led to a revolution in retail.
So inspired and energised were the Asquith brothers by their American trip they converted what was once a theatre called The Queens, into the UK's first self-service supermarket in Castleford. Soon after, they converted an indoor market into their second ‘Queens’ store.
At the same time, the Asquith brothers made an incredible discovery: the concept of food discounting. Crosse & Blackwell were offering a six penny (2½p) postal order for every soup label returned. The Asquith’s buyer, Jack Hewitt (later to become Managing Director of Asda), spotted an opportunity and ordered 1,000 cans of soup. The three then spent the next few days cutting off labels for redemption and offering the cans of soup at a 3d discount. The concept of food discounting and offering customers value for money had arrived. Customers loved the idea… and they still do!
Around the same time, the Asquith brothers pioneered late-night shopping on Fridays. It was a first in retail and, once again, customers loved it.
By the mid-1960s, Britain was starting to swing. Rationing was ten years in the past; the economy was booming; car ownership was growing; and there was shopping to be done.
A great mood of optimism was sweeping the country, and nowhere more so than at Queens, where something very, very exciting was about to happen.
Peter Asquith built his first new supermarket from scratch, next to a large car park, knowing that cars would change the way people shop. Queens soon expanded to form a chain of self-service supermarkets.
It was around this time that Peter Asquith was also looking for a company to take over his in-store butchery operation, so he made contact with Noel Stockdale at Associated Dairies. It was the beginning of a fantastic retail partnership.
On the 3rd May 1965, Asda was born.
ASquith + DAiries = the birth of ASDA
GEM and the arrival of Superstores
Government Exchange Mart (GEM) was a major US discount retailer, with two large stores over 80,000 sq. ft. in the UK. At this point the UK stores were struggling - too many staff, too few customers. Associated Dairies saw the potential and boldly acquired the GEM stores and with Asda’s retailing skills applied they became a phenomenal success.
To fill the extra space in the former GEM stores, Asda became the first food store to offer General Merchandise. Customers were delighted - the Nottingham store takes £30,000 in its first week, and Judith Smith from the Castleford store becomes the first checkout operator to take £1,000 in a week.
The revamped large GEM stores were later to be seen as landmark events in the development of UK retailing. To expand this new trading format, Peter Asquith introduced the very first discounted petrol filling station. None of the major oil companies would support this new idea, so Peter made a deal with a little-known Russian oil company NAFTA.
In 1968, Associated Dairies bought out the Asquith Brothers, but Peter remained a significant force in the business.
By 1970 Asda had over 30 stores and was poised to expand beyond its northern heartland into the south.
1971 - 77
Poised for growth, Asda appointed Peter Firmston-Williams as Managing Director recognising that talented leaders were essential to future success. Peter oversaw Asda's expansion into the south, with new stores opening in Newport, Plymouth and Gosport by 1977.
This year saw the launch of the 'Asda Price' TV adverts featuring the 'pocket tap'. The pocket tap eventually became so well known that it took its place in sign language as the official sign for Asda.
By the end of the 70s, Asda was booming with over 80 stores totalling 3 million sq. ft. of retail space. During this period the business had embarked upon a programme of diversification. We'd introduced Asda Property and Asda Drive, and had acquired a number of businesses including Allied Carpets and Wade's Furniture.
1980s: There's Change in the Air
This year saw the opening of the 100th Asda store, Peter Firmston-Williams left the business and John Fletcher became Asda’s new Managing Director.
John Hardman was appointed as Managing Director and embarked upon a new strategy to develop new 'Asda brand' products, commission a fresh new look for stores and create centralised distribution centres.
Asda and MFI (Mullard Furniture Industries) formed a merger in May this year. MFI is sold again in 1987.
It was during this period that Asda commenced building seven new distribution centres strategically located throughout the UK.
Asda's flagship Watford store opened with 64,000 sq. ft. It was another landmark in UK retailing and featured the longest ever checkout bank, with 45 checkouts.
Asda's new headquarters in Leeds was opened by the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.
The building was a state-of-the-art office complex, the base from which Asda would build its future, which started with the acquisition of 61 Gateway stores.
Seven new distribution centres are opened across the UK.
George Davies was asked to produce a range of clothing for Asda - high quality, high value and with its own identity. The partnership and pioneering brand George at Asda was born – it would eventually become one of the UK's top clothing brands.
1990s: On the Right Track
George creates the first ever supermarket clothing brand
Archie Norman joined Asda and became the youngest ever CEO of a FTSE 100 company.
Archie and his new senior team, which included Allan Leighton, Phil Cox and Tony Campbell, listened to the business and produced a radical new strategy.
The Asda Way of Working was created, which provided a framework for a new organisational structure. It made stores the heroes and promoted colleague involvement. It was the start of the Asda culture we know and love today.
In the space of four short years, Archie, Allan Leighton and their team had returned Asda to a major force in UK retailing.
Asda launched the Tickled Pink campaign to raise money for the fight against breast cancer in a partnership that continues to this day.
The first pharmacy was also opened in Harrogate. Today, Asda pharmacies offer services to families including free blood pressure checks, immunisations and flu jabs - helping our customers save money and live better.
Asda starts its online retail service with a dedicated depot in Croydon.
In a move that takes the industry by surprise, Asda joins the Walmart family and becomes part of the world's biggest retailer.
A New Century, A New Chapter
Asda entered the new millennium at a tremendous pace and enjoyed renewed growth, with new business areas added, new brands introduced and new stores opening. Asda also launched the grocery home shopping business, later to be followed by the launch of the non-food online business.
Asda was named the top company to work for by The Sunday Times.
Asda was named 'Best Value Retailer' by The Grocer for the seventh year running and also became Britain's biggest clothing retailer. The first Asda Living store was launched in Walsall – the first 'General Merchandise' store.
This year Asda was also proud to announced that in just five years since 1999, it had helped to raise over £21million for Children in Need and Tickled Pink.
George becomes the second largest retailer of clothing in the UK and delights customers with the launch of £3 jeans
Andy Bond was appointed as President and CEO and with him came a fresh outlook on retail and more success for Asda. This year we also expanded into Northern Ireland.
Asda launched the 'we sell for less' programme, lowering the cost of living for millions in the UK.
Andy Clarke was named COO later to become President and CEO. Asda also expanded its online retail offering by launching direct.asda.com.
Asda opened its Eco Store in Bootle - the most environmentally friendly store we'd ever opened, including bricks recycled from Liverpool docks. The energy saved from using natural light could brew 11 million cups of tea!
This year marks the launch of the first online George store and in October introduced the £15 little black coat which was a huge hit.
Asda acquired International Produce Limited, an important part of the strategy to source fresh produce directly and deliver even better value for customers.
George was also going from strength to strength becoming number one on volume for clothing in the UK. Also, as part of the mission to support Asda parents in every way we can, the 100-day money-back guarantee on school uniforms was introduced.
Asda continued to grow. Online shopping was still expanding and we were meeting the challenge. We were still opening new stores, still saving our customers money every day, and raising our game in sustainability.
George introduces the ground-breaking 100 Day satisfaction guarantee. This means that if for any reason our customers weren’t satisfied with their George item purchased, they could simply return it within 100 days with their proof of purchase for an exchange or refund.
George becomes the main title sponsor Graduate Fashion Week, affirming its commitment to providing the latest fashions at the very best prices.
The new Community Life programme was launched - whether through supporting local events, charities or schools, we strived to help make our local communities better places to live and work for colleagues and customers alike.
The same year the first drive-thru Click & Collect was installed in Queensferry. It marked another first for Asda ahead of the roll out of Click & Collect.
The new Bangor store was the first to be completely fitted out with LED lighting. Stores also started using air source heat pumps - adding renewable energy to new stores.
Asda opened its new Merchandising Centre of Excellence in Leeds in a 90,000 sq. ft. former bottling plant. It has become a key part of Asda and an example of global best practice for Walmart.
The first stand-alone petrol filling station was launched in Sale. While the UK's first temperature-controlled Click & Collect lockers for food installed in Pudsy.
George takes the number one spot in the market for volume and value on Back to School
This year the Retail Industry Awards recognised the amazing work of our community colleagues as we were voted ‘Community Retailer of the Year’. We were also honoured to be named as one of the Times Top 50 Employers for Women and we were bursting with pride to have held on to our place in 2015.
By 2014 we also had 600 remote Click & Collect points installed across the country.
Asda launches the George Home range with 1000 new lines including home accessories and bedding with prices starting from just £1. This year we also launched the first supermarket premature baby clothing designed to fit babies between 1lb and 5lbs.
Asda celebrates its 50th Birthday! A milestone year for the company which saw many great achievements, including the 600th store being opened and profits surpassing the £1bn mark for the first time. To celebrate reaching its half century and its successful partnership with Walmart, Asda adopted its parent’s famous ‘sparks’ to its logo along with Walmart’s purpose to ‘Save Money. Live Better.’
2015 was also a time to celebrate for George Clothing, marking 25 years since its launch.
Asda’s Tickled Pink campaign, which has been running for 20 years, hits £50million raised to help support Breast Cancer Care and Breast Cancer Now charities.
Sean Clarke is announced as Asda’s new President and CEO as the business continuously looks at ways to help its customers Save Money and Live better.
Asda's commitment to providing great value for customers is recognised again, when the company is named the lowest priced supermarket at the Grocer Gold Awards for a record 20th year in a row.
Yorkshireman Roger Burnley returns home, rejoinging Asda as Chief Operating Officer and Deputy CEO. He had previously held a number of positions in the company in the late 1990s and early 2000s, before taking up senior roles at other retailers.
Asda is included in the Centrica Top 100 Apprenticeship Employer list as one of the UK’s leading employers of apprentices - the only one of the big four supermarkets to be included.
As part of its support for suppliers and to help small businesses better manage their cashflow, Asda commits to paying all small suppliers in 14 days.
After returning the business to positive sales growth, Sean Clarke hands over as President & CEO to Roger Burnley and a new era begins.
Asda rolls out a number of new technologies to help make shopping easier for its customers, including the UK's first parcel tower, meaning customers can collect online orders in less than 60 seconds, and voice-activated shopping through Google Home.
In 2018 Asda and J Sainsbury PLC announced a proposal to merge and create a new retail business. In 2019 the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) issued its final report blocking the merger.