Given that Asda was about to unveil the worst quarterly sales performance in its history, boss Andy Clarke was remarkably positive.
He sat cross legged in his chair, directly underneath a big screen at Asda’s Carnaby Street offices, staring out at a group of hard-nosed journalists as chief financial officer Alex Russo prepared to deliver the eye-watering figure.
Clarke would have seen a crowd of collective eyebrows raise and faces wince as the negative 5.8% like-for-like figure appeared above him.
It was surely worse than anybody at the briefing, or even Clarke himself, could have predicted.
In that moment, it became all too clear that Asda’s disastrous second quarter hadn’t been the embattled grocer’s “nadir” after all.
But Clarke was honest enough to admit that he was “surprised” by a resurgent Tesco and a “softer” quarter packed with promotional activity.
He was bullish enough to suggest that the “short-term tactics” employed by his rivals would not win over shoppers in the long-term.
And he was defiant enough to declare that Asda was “in a position of strength rather than a position of crisis,” despite six consecutive quarters of tumbling sales.
By Clarke’s own admission, 2016 will be a “big year” for Asda if he is to prove that latter statement correct.
Rightly or wrongly, Clarke and Asda have stuck to their guns, offering everyday low prices, rather than firing promotional shots in a bid to win sales.
But in a world of the rapidly-growing discounters, EDLP is simply no longer a unique selling point. Asda needs to reposition and reinvent itself if it is to win back those desperately needed shoppers.
That’s where Project Renewal comes in – an 18-month initiative aimed at “prioritising investment to better address the fast-changing needs of its customers.”
Asda has hit the brakes on its click and collect roll-out, pledged to revamp 95 of its larger stores, signalled its intent to carry out detailed range reviews and vowed to cut the price differential to the discounters to 5%.
Clarke admitted that other “difficult decisions” have already been made too, with around 300 head office jobs poised to be axed and 5,000 in-store roles placed in consultation.
New chief customer officer Andy Murray also has a key part to play as he bids to make shoppers fall in love with Asda once again.
Yet, despite action so drastic that would make his opposite number at Tesco proud, Clarke has already warned that such sweeping changes to structurally realign the grocer will not have a material impact on its like-for-likes during 2016.
Instead, the back end of this year and into 2017, he said, was when the supermarket giant’s “stability” would become “much more obvious” as Project Renewal begins to bear fruit.