Many moons ago, in the late 1990s and in contrast to today’s Kantar data, the big grocers were motoring.

Many moons ago, in the late 1990s and in contrast to today’s Kantar data, the big grocers were motoring.

Tesco had ejected Sainsbury’s from the number-one spot in the market and was battling with Asda for customers.

Both had bagfuls of personality. Each positioned itself as ‘the consumers’ friend’.

That was reflected in the introduction of all sorts of new general merchandise categories in hypermarkets, which put the frighteners on established specialists.

The grocers were able to say that they brought great value to customers who could pop – in those days – a CD player into the trolley alongside a can of beans.

It was evidence of a tremendous sense of purpose. Asda and Tesco scoured the grey market for branded product such as jeans and sunglasses, which they sold at knockdown prices. Nothing’s too good for our customers, the argument went.

They democratised previously exclusive product and seemed, although they were mighty corporations, to be on the side of the little guys. Let them drink champagne – or at least prosecco – was the attitude.

Today some of the big grocers seem to have lost that aspect of their character. They remain giant corporations but the little guys have switched focus. Today it’s Aldi at one end of the spectrum and Waitrose at the other who seem to have a strong sense of mission.

The former, which today once again emerged the winner in the Kantar grocery data has, a bit like Asda and Tesco in the old days, cast itself on the side of the consumer through its value. At the same time it has emphasised product quality and developed a sense of humour, evident in its advertising.

It has effectively cast itself a Robin Hood of retail, on hand to ensure a redistribution of wealth that might otherwise go to the Sheriff of Nottingham – or perhaps Cheshunt.

Britain’s big grocers are among the best in the world – so much so that whether it’s on product quality, choice or value, they are taken for granted.

Perhaps it’s time for them to complement such virtues by rediscovering some of the personality that contributed to their ascendancy in the first place.

  • While writing this it has emerged that Tesco’s chief marketing officer has been ‘sidelined’ and looks likely to be replaced after only a year in the role. Perhaps personality and a sense of mission will be part of any new marketing message and put at the heart of the retailer.