As household budgets are squeezed by surging inflation, the landscape is about to become more fiercely competitive than ever. An ability to stomach some of the cost pressures will be a huge advantage in these straightened times, a point Aldi is keen to ram home with an ominous warning to rivals that it would prosper as the cost of living bites.
Sainsbury’s, meanwhile, seems unsure of which direction to head in after its wrong-headed and ultimately doomed pursuit of Asda three years ago. Its vague “food first” strategy doesn’t appear to be paying off after the grocer relinquished further market share over the 12 weeks to Boxing Day.
That leaves mighty Tesco, the only one of the big four to recover ground during the same three-month period, enough to leave it with almost 28pc of the market, its highest share for four years.
It is a statistic that underlines the company’s comeback from 2014’s life-threatening accounting scandal, and deals a blow to private equity’s plans to make a quick profit from the sector.
The prospect of rising interest rates pushing up borrowing costs is enough of a headache for the new backers of Asda and Morrisons but a quietly resurgent Tesco will give every supermarket boss sleepless nights, including Aldi’s Giles Hurley.
By virtue of its unrivalled store footprint, online capabilities and the way it has been able to emerge from the global supply chain crisis unscathed, Tesco’s dominance was never under threat once it had weathered the immediate aftermath of the accounting farrago.
The company has also, like Aldi, made a pledge to offset inflationary pressures through a round of cost cuts elsewhere in the business. With some industry figures fearing Aldi’s market share could double again over the forthcoming decade, the pair are poised for a ferocious food fight.