ASDA – Made In Yorkshire – Volume 1

We take a look at ASDA, looking at how it grew from a cooperative of dairy farmers, to being the supermarket giant that it is today.

Although ASDA didn’t appear until 1965, its origins date back to the end of the nineteenth century and the introduction of pasteurisation. In 1900, several dairy farmers in the Skipton area got together to build a milk factory treating 500 gallons of milk every day. In the 1920s, Arthur Stockdale, who had a milk wholesaling business in Grassington, got together with other farmers to form Hindell’s Dairy Farmers Ltd, and its subsidiary, The Craven Dairies Ltd which was the first to supply sterilized milk in the Leeds area.

In 1949, Hindells and several other dairies, bakers, butchers became Associated Dairies and Farm Stores Ltd, with Stockdale as managing director. In the 1950s, they went on to acquire other companies and had expanded into most of Yorkshire and the North-East. In 1963, the company dropped the Farm Stores element of their name, simply becoming Associated Dairies Ltd.

As Associated Dairies was expanding in the 1950s, the American GEN group was experimenting with the idea of large stores filled with smaller stores – an idea which at the time failed to ignite the imagination of the British public. In the 1960s however, two brothers from a family of Pontefract butchers succeeded in creating a small chain of self service supermarkets.

Peter and Fred Asquith created the first of their supermarkets in what had previously been the Queen’s Theatre in Castelford. A 1963 newspaper advertisement for one of their new Queens Supermarkets promised ‘Permanent Reductions’, ignoring resale price maintenance which allowed manufacturers to fix retail prices; then taking advantage of its abolition in 1964. They also offered late night opening until 8pm on Fridays.

Despite being so successful, the Asquith brothers needed financial backing in order to expand further. Peter Asquith arranged a meeting with Noel Stockdale (Arthur’s son) and Eric Binns, vice president and managing director of Associated Dairies. On 3rd May 1965, the Asquith’s sold their stores to Associated Dairies, staying on as joint managing directors. ASDA was officially born – ‘AS’ coming from Asquith, and ‘DA’ from Dairies (although rumours are still abound that the AS was from Associated).

Later in 1965, ASDA purchased the GEM chain of stores, re-branding them as ASDA Queen, and in September of that year had opened the first of their new stores in South Elmsall. By 1968, the Asquith brothers had been bought out. Through the 1970s the company grew from strength to strength, expanding into other areas such as estate agents and car sales, although these other ventures have long since been disposed of. The 1970s also saw the first of the famous ASDA ‘pocket tap’ advertisements which aired in 1977.

The 1980s saw mixed fortunes for the company, when it fell foul of the ‘Black Monday’ stock market crash on 19th October 1987. The company bought then sold other major retailers such as MFI and Allied Carpets, changing its name to ASDA Group Ltd. The company also sold their dairy subsidiaries, meaning it no longer had any connection with the companies which formed its name.

On a more positive note, ASDA expanded greatly by purchasing around 90 of the rival Gateway stores. Another major boost for the company came from the George Davis Partnership, which led to the George range of clothing being introduced in 1989.

In the 1990s, new chief executive, Archie Norman, brought new vision and success to the company, modelling the stores in the style of the world’s leading retail company, Walmart. This move was so successful that in 1999, ASDA was purchased by Walmart. Throughout the 2000s, the company has gone on to be one of ‘the big four’ supermarket chains with new headquarters on the riverside in Leeds, and going on to purchase other chains such as Safeway and Netto. Highest among its many accolades though, is that for the past 16 years it has won Grocer Magazine’s ‘lowest priced supermarket’ award.

In the next post in this series, we will look at one of the country’s leading High Street retailers of menswear, Greenwoods.