Supermarket chain Asda will report half-year results on Thursday amid signs of a barbecue bounce for food retailers from the recent summer heatwave.
The latest figures from market analysts Nielsen suggested Britain’s major grocers lifted sales by 6.4 per cent on last year during the period of sunny weather thanks to strong demand for soft drinks, beers and cider.
The British Retail Consortium said July saw the best performance for food and drink sales since November 2009, with burgers, baps and ice cream selling well.
The increases may have come too late to have an impact on Leeds-based Asda’s interim figures, but are likely to boost optimism for its outlook as it fights with other members of the “big four” over a shrinking market.
The major players – which include Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons – have been squeezed by competition from opposite ends of the spectrum, with Waitrose, Aldi and Lidl gaining market share and eating away at the middle.
Latest data from Kantar Worldpanel showed the trend continuing, with Sainsbury’s the only one of the big four not to lose market share in the 12 weeks to July 7.
Asda, which is owned by US giant Walmart, announced in April that it was to open 12 stores and create up to 2,500 new jobs in the UK this year, investing £700m in its outlets and online operations.
But despite the new store openings it said it was shifting focus away from its “bricks and mortar” stores towards multi-channel sales, including click-and-collect services.
Total sales in 2012 of £22.8bn were up 4.5 per cent, while like-for-like sales were up one per cent for the year. The supermarket saw a like-for-like improvement of 1.3 per cent in its first quarter.
Asda will announce plans today to roll out a BA (Hons) degree programme in partnership with Middlesex University following a pilot last year.
The three-year programme, one of the first of its kind by a UK retailer, will offer 30 Asda employees the opportunity to study for a BA (Hons) Degree in either Distribution or Retail Operations, while retaining a salaried position in store.
The scheme, fully funded by the retailer, involves classroom workshops, work-based assessment, online study and peer networking.
Applicants will be selected by Asda based on performance and potential rather than past academic achievement.
Hayley Tatum, executive people director at Asda, said: “The current economic climate – coupled with the spiralling costs of higher education – means that many of our colleagues have missed out on university degrees.
“Through the programme, we hope to create a pool of home- grown talent, the future leaders of Asda.”