Belfast Telegraph

Untimely slump dashes Sainsbury's boss Justin King's lap of honour

By David Elliott, Business Editor

News of a fall in Sainsbury's like-for-like sales has tarnished what was going to be a fairytale ending for chief executive Justin King.

He presided over a turnaround in the retailing giant during a time when its rivals were struggling to keep up with the changing demands of an increasingly cash-strapped stay-at-home consumer.

With only a matter of weeks to go before he leaves his post, it looked as if Mr King was in for the perfect send-off, the like of which we haven't seen since... oh, last weekend when Brian O'Driscoll topped off a stellar career in Irish rugby with a championship win against the French.

Only in Mr King's case did the final nerve-jangling minutes see the pendulum swing the wrong way and the king come out a loser.

Sainsbury's sales from stores which have been open at least a year and excluding petrol were down 3.1% in the 10 weeks to last Saturday.

Did he take his eye off the ball in the last few minutes of the supermarket game and allow his rivals to edge ahead?

That's unlikely given it seems those rivals were having an equally tough time dealing with consumers which are yet again changing their hauty demands.

Mr King himself blamed a fall in food prices, presumably because that cuts the amount of margin a supermarket can take without appearing greedy; unseasonable weather, presumably warmer over the winter which deterred sales of snow shovels; and the later timing of Easter, which must have something to do with chocolate eggs.

But it still maintained its market share, something which you can only conclude means a similar fall in sales at the other supermarkets is on the cards.

Time will tell but for now Mr King's lap of honour has been slightly dented.

That shouldn't diminish the work he has done over the last few years rejuvenating what had been a tired brand.

Although supermarkets may not be on the Christmas card lists of many producers, there's no doubt they are a hugely important part of the farming industry here and Sainsbury's has been at the forefront of sourcing Northern Ireland produce not just for the local market but for export.

So, aside from a final blip, Mr King can probably head off to his next executive post in reasonably happy form.

For his replacement, like in the number 13 position on the Irish rugby team, they're some pretty big boots to fill.

Belfast Telegraph

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