Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Sainsbury's and Tesco hand over the reins to new leaders

Business Editor Margaret Canning
Business Editor Margaret Canning

Supermarkets are facing a remarkable shake-up in their leadership as three looming figures depart the stage – one in a more permanent sense than the others.

Sainsbury's and Tesco are both having significant change at the top. The former's Justin King is already out the door – though he departed of his own accord after leading his supermarket to the glory of growing market share and fruitful tie-ins with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.

The King – as he was almost never known – is replaced by Mike Coupe.

Never has so much hope been placed in one new broom as Tesco's incoming chief executive Dave Lewis.

Shareholders and bosses alike at the number one supermarket will be hoping the Unilever executive can banish the poor sales and profit warnings of the era of present chief executive Philip Clarke, and replace them with strategies that can bring Tesco back to prominence. Mr Clarke leaves the job in October.

News from research company Kantar Worldpanel were a reminder, if one was needed, of just what a tough job Mr Lewis is facing. Tesco sales fell 3.8% in the three months to July 20, the steepest fall in around 20 years.

In a claim to shame which Tesco would prefer to avoid, Morrisons, the troubled north of England- based retailer, also experienced a fall in sales of 3.8%.

Mr King's reign at Sainsbury's came to a more pleasant close as its sales grew by 1.2%.

The third supermarket titan to leave the stage is Karl Albrecht, the co-founder of discount supermarket Aldi, who has died at the age of 94.

Aldi, and fellow German discounter Lidl, made record sales in the 12-week period to July 20 as both responded more nimbly to competition in the sector.

In a fitting tribute to Mr Albrecht's legacy, Aldi sales rocketed 32% over the year taking its market share to a record 4.8%, just behind upmarket Waitrose.

Lidl's sales leapt by nearly 20% – keeping its market share at 3.6%.

Mr Albrecht's supermarket savvy earned him a fortune estimated at £12bn. He and his brother Theo turned their mother's small grocery store into a shopping Mecca – and one which at least one Belfast Telegraph reader believes should strongly consider setting up in Northern Ireland.

Justin King has enjoyed a much smoother exit from the stage than Philip Clarke will – and King's last company AGM had a good-natured dig at his former rival when a question was posed by someone also called Philip Clarke.

Reminding shareholders that Mr Clarke had a tough act to follow in former Tesco boss Sir Terry Leahy, the other Mr Clarke joked:

"I am very sad to see Mr King go and I hope Mr Coupe doesn't suffer the fortune my namesake has."

Mr Albrecht's successor also has tough act to follow.

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