Asda has recorded its first quarter of falling sales for the first time in almost two years, insisting it kept its “focus” as it fought in vain for its planned merger with Sainsbury’s.
The supermarket chain reported a decline of 1.1% in like-for-like sales between January and March – the first slip following seven consecutive quarters of growth.
It blamed the timing of Easter, saying that it delivered growth of 0.5% over the three months when the effects of the later holiday, in April, were stripped out.
It marked a further disappointment for the chain as it continues to lick its wounds following the competition regulator’s decision to block its £13bn deal with Sainsbury’s.
The chains argued customers would benefit from savings. The Competition and Markets Authority said consumers risked being left out of pocket.
There was speculation the position of Sainsbury’s chief executive Mike Coupe was under pressure before it unveiled a £46m financial hit from the merger and falling sales two weeks ago.
Analysts questioned whether he had taken his eye off the ball. He said then he was going nowhere and was committed to the business.
His Asda counterpart, Roger Burnley, said in its results statement: “Throughout the quarter we have maintained our focus and momentum, against an increasingly challenging backdrop and we remain entirely focused on delivering our strategy, without the benefits the proposed merger with Sainsbury’s would have delivered.
“Our strategy remains as it always has been – winning on price for customers, whilst delivering a consistent customer experience and investing in driving growth where customers care.”
Asda says parent firm Walmart has committed to investment as it ponders its next move. Options include Walmart selling the business altogether to a smaller grocery rival, such as Amazon.
Its international chief executive confirmed at a meeting of UK managers on Wednesday that it was “seriously considering” a flotation of the UK business but said such an undertaking would take “years” to organise.
Walmart president Doug McMillon said: “We are disappointed that the proposed merger of Asda with Sainsbury’s isn’t happening because it would’ve been good for customers and the businesses.
“Asda continues to focus on delivering against our strategy and has built momentum in the business, which is impressive.”