The retailer confirmed that McDonough made the decision to depart after being made aware he wouldn’t be replacing Smith, who is set to return to a marketing role within Walmart, as chief customer officer.
“Chris left the business last week as part of the changes we announced,” said a spokeswoman, denying reports McDonough had been pushed.
“As Steve Smith was always on an expat assignment with Asda, he brought Chris into the business with a view to him as a successor, sadly we could no longer fulfill that ambition and we are sad to see him go.” Smith, as revealed last week, will be replaced by chief merchandising officer for food Barry Williams.
Speaking to Marketing Week today, Smith said: “Very soon, we will be replacing Chris with someone with a real retail marketing background and it will be a good fit.”
He also revealed that the second half of 2014 and the start of 2015 had been “the most challenging market conditions” he had encountered since taking on the role of CMO in 2012.
Smith said the discounters Aldi and Lidl had impacted on Asda’s Christmas sales, although he didn’t reveal any figures – the retailer is due to release its fourth quarter results in February.
“Retail estate is expensive and there’s no room for consumption, so things are tough right now,” he said. “I’m sure Aldi and Lidl have had a good Christmas and it is safe to say the trend of the discounters hitting hard at the big four made a real difference across the board over the fourth quarter.”
Asda saw like-for-like sales fall by 1.6% in the third quarter to the end of September, with the retailer warning that the turbulence stirred up by the supermarket price war would weigh on its performance over the next 12 months.
To combat the threat of the discounters Asda will spend £300 million on price cuts in the first three months of this year as part of a wider £1 billion investment on price.
Smith added: “Look, Asda is an extremely resilient business. We have to expand our small stores and click and collect in the south east, that remains a strategic priority, but with rivals closing stores we also have to be careful.”
He also wished McDonough well.
“Chris was a fantastic asset to the marketing team and wider business, and he’ll move to somewhere great very quickly,” he added.
“He has been fundamental in transforming our marketing capability and overall strategic direction in the past two years. Chris and I are leaving the marketing team in fantastic shape, and Barry and the team will push on.”