Andy wants to show me something. He grabs my elbow and pulls me into the aisle of chill-cabinets. 'There, look at that,' he says excitedly, pointing at a cardboard carton of packets of fresh pasta. 'That's what I mean by innovation. Instead of a colleague taking ages filling the shelf with individual packs, he or she just takes the box out, rips it open and puts it there. It means they've got more time to fill other shelves, so their efficiency is increased. Oh, before you ask, when it's empty, the carton is sent off to our recycling centre.'
We're in the Asda store next to Clapham Junction in south London. It's the middle of the afternoon and the place is teeming. Andy Bond, the CEO, introduces me to Andrew, the manager (everyone wears badges saying 'Always Happy to Help' with their first names - surnames don't count in Asda). Andrew is extremely proud of the fact that sales at this branch are up 30% year on year. Footfall has also increased 8%. Nationally, Asda is now the number two in groceries by market share, and has just beaten Primark to become the UK's second-favourite clothing store by volume of sales, thanks to a sterling performance from its George label. Its financial performance is more opaque, as parent company Wal-Mart does not reveal the numbers for its international subsidiaries.
Andrew, a Northerner, used to work at Tesco. 'I was a manager. I had a list of things to do every day - I didn't have the chance to be entrepreneurial. Here, I've been allowed to focus on my shop. I'm focused on a plan for getting product onto shelves, providing excellent service for customers and communicating and motivating colleagues. At Tesco, people just came in to get their wages. Here, there's no hierarchy. Everyone is closer to everybody else.'