Asda has hit headlines of late for selling a huge amount of £10 Champagne, offering three slabs of lager for £20 and stocking six bottles of branded wine for £24. It has consistently offered the most competitive prices on spirits and recently raised eyebrows when it unveiled a £5 fizz called Progrigio.

So scepticism may abound as it reveals ambitious plans to drive value into the market, champion premium wines, inspire its shoppers to spend more on artisan spirits and become the UK’s leading craft beer retailer. 

It does not really sound like the Asda we all know and love, but there is a new team in charge and it certainly talks a good game. Drew Tiffin has replaced Tracy Ford as BWS category director and he is on a mission to remove duplication and give more space to interesting beers, wines and spirits. “We are making sure we are editing duplication but protecting and driving choice,” he tells DRN. “Where two lines are doing the same job we can make decisions about range cuts and be really bold with new, emerging categories. We have more than 100 new craft beer lines coming in. I am confident we now have an all-singing, all-dancing, market-leading range of beers.” 

To make room for this it has axed a lot of SKUs from standard lager, where customers were switching regularly between formats, pack sizes and brands, based largely on which was cheapest. A quick glance at the new range might suggest big brewers are still in the driving seat, as many beers come from the likes of Brewdog, Samuel Adams and Brooklyn, which are becoming huge, or craft breweries that have been snapped up by the multinationals. But Tiffin promises it will contain a lot more brews from “traditional craft suppliers” than mainstream ones. 

They include Cut Loose Pilsner, Bad Co’s Pale Aura and Schrodinger’s Cat, a hop-forward bitter from Hull-based Atom Brewery. The new selection of American beers includes Stone IPA and Harpoon IPA. Seasonal beers will be coming in every few months for the first time. Ranges will also be tailored to suit the demographics of stores. In supermarkets in Brighton, London, Manchester, Leeds and parts of Scotland craft beer will have a greater presence. Regional brews from Yorkshire have proved popular in a Brighton store in one trial. A four-for-£6 link-save is designed to encourage experimentation. 

“It’s a big range to cater for everyone, trying to break down boundaries and make sure everyone has a chance to sample craft beer and get it into their homes,” says Hywel Evans, Asda’s ale and craft beer buyer. “We are seeing the category engaging new drinkers. They are willing to learn and we are helping to educate them and getting the right beers for them.”

The retailer is adopting a similar approach to spirits. It has identified growth categories – gin, imported whiskey and tequila – and is giving them more shelf space to keep the momentum going. “We have seen growth in the premium sector of the spirits category,” says Tiffin. “We have gone from 13 craft gins to 22. We are getting on the back of trends we have seen elsewhere.”

Charlie Craven, spirits buying manager, adds: “We want to inspire our shoppers more. Last year we made some significant changes to create space to grow categories that are performing well. This year we have built on that.”

Asda has upped its tequilas from three to eight, and brought in Jim Beam rye, Bulleit rye and Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel rye to give shoppers “a clear good, better, best tiering”, according to Craven. 

The supermarket has admitted in the past that wine is playing catch-up on beer and spirits. “There is opportunity to do more at the higher end,” says Tiffin. “I am talking about £8-£10. Right now we significantly under-trade there versus the rest of the market.”

It has culled 200 wines – around 25% of its range. “It’s about removing duplication and bringing in choice,” says Ed Betts, wine buying manager. “We need to make stores simpler for customers to shop too. Wall of wine is a term used a lot within the industry. It’s about making it easier to shop and more accessible and letting customers trade up.”

Tiffin adds: “We had fun with Progrigio and we are going to keep that going. We know our average customer likes a bit of fun but there is always a balance. We are working really hard to drive our premium credentials within the wine fixture.  

“People are not drinking as much but they are prepared to pay a little bit more for craft beer, premium wines, imported whiskey. 

“We are not where we want to be yet, but we’re in a better place and performance is much better. BWS has been strong. Relative to food performance we have had a really good six months. Being paranoid about pricing, passionate about driving simplicity on shelf, being really rigid and clear on the roles of promotion and headline activity is important. 

“We have been passionate about winning at seasons, that’s when footfall comes through and customers are looking for the best offers.”