Asda Just Essentials range: shoppers face postcode lottery with items out of stock - how UK areas compare

Over a third of the much lauded Just Essentials range was out of stock in one city we tried to shop in.

Asda shoppers trying to buy the new Just Essentials range face a postcode lottery, with over a third of the products out of stock in one major UK city checked during an exclusive audit by NationalWorld.

The supermarket launched the new line, which has almost entirely replaced the former Smart Price and Farm Stores brands, earlier this year with a promise that the full range would be available in all 581 stores and online.

Bosses said the new range had been designed with tackling the cost of living crisis in mind, adding that the store’s mission was “to meet all household needs through Just Essentials by Asda, and ensure that families can enjoy nutritious food, no matter their budget”. The range spans everything from food cupboard essentials, dairy, fresh and frozen meat and prepared products.

But in a snapshot taken across seven UK cities earlier this month, we found that between 18% and 34% of products were either out of stock or listed as ‘unavailable’ online.

NationalWorld tried to purchase 222 food, drink and household cleaning Just Essentials products listed on the Asda website using central postcodes in Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle, London, Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh, finding wide variation in availability. The snapshot was taken between 8 and 9 November.

Shoppers in Northern Ireland were the least well served, with 76 (34%) Just Essentials items unavailable at our Belfast address. We asked whether post-Brexit trading conditions were in any way responsible for the poor offering in Northern Ireland, but Asda did not address this.

Fourteen products were out of stock at all seven addresses we tried to buy them from, including sliced bread, mustard, mixed herbs, strawberries, tinned carrots and potatoes, frozen prawns, chicken nuggets, cherries, tomatoes, a gammon joint, chocolate digestive bars and spaghetti loops.

Asda introduced rationing on the Just Essentials range in September to tackle shortages – just months after its launch.The rules, which angered many customers, ban them from buying more than three of any individual item. A spokesperson said at the time that the move was temporary, promising that out of stock products would be back on the shelves after “a short period”.

Edinburgh had the best availability according to our research, although around one in six products (18%) were still out of stock. It was followed by Cardiff (20%), Newcastle and Manchester (23%), South London (25%) and then Birmingham (28%).

Patchy availability of value range products is not a new issue for Asda. In January, food writer Jack Monroe posted a viral Tweet criticising the Office for National Statistics over its inflation index, in which she also hit out at Asda over the dwindling number of Smart Price products available in her local store.

The anti-poverty campaigner had pointed out that poorer shoppers faced exaggerated levels of inflation if stores did not widely stock their cheapest products. In her local Asda, she could no longer buy a 29p bag of Smart Price pasta, and had to instead opt for a 70p own-brand version – the equivalent of a 141% price rise.

Asda said in response that it would stock its entire Smart Price and Farm Stores ranges in all 581 food stores and online to help customers with the cost-of-living crisis.

NationalWorld has also exposed how products in the Just Essentials line are being hit by price hikes month after month in our exclusive supermarket value range price tracker. In some cases, we saw new Just Essentials products replacing a cheaper existing Smart Price or Farm Stores item.

The more recent problems with lack of availability of Just Essentials products have not gone unnoticed by customers, with many taking to Twitter to complain about their struggles purchasing the budget items.

In late August one shopper posted: “Just doing the ASDA order....their Just Essentials (formerly Smart Price) range has 200 items in it. 61 of them are out of stock. Including their frozen chicken curry and rice ready meal; but don’t worry, the non frozen one is available for 50% more!”

A few days later another posted: “Last night, I looked online at Asda site. The Just Essentials range as vaunted by [Jack Monroe] was mostly ‘out of stock’... at least on the cheapest things.” Another shopper replied: “It’s almost always out of stock at my local store now, it’s so disheartening.”

An Asda spokesperson said: “We launched Just Essentials in May to help customers keep their households running on the tightest of budgets. The combination of good quality products, at low prices, is proving to be very popular with our customers and more than 10 million of them bought products from the range during the last quarter. To manage availability and ensure as many customers as possible can buy Just Essentials products, we have temporary purchase limits of three of any product across the range.”