Mega-retailer Walmart operates over 11,000 locations all around the globe, employing millions of people and serving hundreds of millions every day.
It might seem natural, then, that shoppers in London and the UK can pop into their local Walmart and pick up whatever they need, right?
Actually, if you’re wondering if Walmart in is the UK or London, you might be surprised by the answer. Here is what I discovered!
Is Walmart In The UK Or London?
Walmart is in the UK as an equity investment holder in the grocery chain Asda. Walmart originally acquired Asda in 1999, retaining its company name and marking Walmart’s entry into the UK Market. In 2021, the Issa brothers completed a majority-stake acquisition of Asda, with Walmart retaining an equity investment and seat on the board.
To learn more about Asda locations, how Walmart entered the UK, why Asda isn’t called Walmart, and more, see below!
How Did Walmart Enter The United Kingdom?
Asda has been a well-known supermarket chain in the UK since the 1920s when the first locations opened in West Yorkshire.
Originally a butcher get-up, the offerings expanded, and the business became a series of discount-price supermarkets.
Throughout the 60s and 70s the chain expanded south, eventually entering London in 1982.
By the 90s, however, Asda was nearing bankruptcy, and rumors of a merger existed.
In June 1999 it was announced that Walmart had placed a $10.8 billion bid to acquire Asda, a move which immediately struck fear into the hearts of UK retailers.
Asda had just dissolved talks with Kingfisher plc, and both Asda and Walmart had vehemently denied their intention to team up in the months prior.
Still, the merger seems like it couldn’t have been a total shock.
Asda had begun opening larger stores, called “Supercentres” after the Walmart model, and maintained an emphasis on discount pricing.
It’s not surprising, then, that Walmart would have eyed the Asda chain with appreciation.
At the time, the acquisition seemed like the start of Walmart’s European domination.
But after failing to launch particularly well in Germany (under the Walmart store brand), it appears that rather than dig in deeper in Europe, Walmart is looking elsewhere to expand.
In that context, their “exit” from the UK market, only about 20-odd years after establishing their foothold with Asda, explains the Issa brothers/EG Group buyout.
Why Is ASDA Not Called Walmart?
One commenter on Quora has a pretty reasonable explanation for why Asda stores did not become Walmart stores in 1999.
In his opinion, this was an intelligent move by Walmart to not alienate UK shoppers with the decidedly American take on retail (which Walmart represents).
Instead, Walmart could quietly profit from the established brand trust and loyalty that UK shoppers had formed for Asda since the first half of the 20th century.
I don’t know about you, but I get upset when my grocery store changes its layout slightly.
So the huge disruption of a complete rebranding, plus the total decimation of the store layout Asda shoppers had come to know, would have been extremely off-putting.
And that’s just the emotional toll.
Practically speaking, imagine how expensive that would have been for Walmart! Asda does, after all, have hundreds of locations throughout the UK.
How Are Asda And Walmart Similar?
As I mentioned previously, there is enough similarity between Asda and Walmart to have made Walmart’s initial acquisition attractive.
Some enterprising writers at Business Insider visited an Asda and a Walmart to report on what’s alike and different.
For example, a typical Asda and a typical Walmart have well-stocked produce sections near the front of the store.
Meats/butchers, seafood, and bakeries are sectioned off individually and placed near the back or along the sides of the stores, leading back.
Asda also has a strong selection of ready-made meals, which you can pop in the microwave or oven.
Walmart, appealing to American shoppers who love convenience, does much the same, usually with an island cooler near the deli, where you can find heat-and-eat meals in plastic containers.
One thing I found especially funny is that the Business Insider writers reported that, just like in America, UK supermarkets gear up for holidays well ahead of schedule!
Their final takeaway was that while the layouts and varieties of foods were much alike, Asda is more of a grocery store, and Walmart is more of an “everything” store.
Who Acquired ASDA From Walmart?
Walmart is still technically present in the UK with their minority stake in Asda, but the new owners are the Issa brothers, billionaires and owners of the EG Group.
Despite the new acquisition, Walmart maintains their minority stake in Asda, who will still have a voice on the board and plans to continue their “ongoing commercial relationship.”
Walmart’s presence in the UK and London has diminished since the Asda buyout by the Issa brothers.
But for over 20 years, Walmart operated the Asda supermarket chain in London and the UK as part of their network of international holdings.
With the sale of the Asda company, Walmart appears to be looking toward Asian markets instead.