Sainsbury’s new boss needs perfect balance to keep tills ringing

While many, Coupe included, believe a shift to online grocery shopping will be permanent, Black says Sainsbury’s store estate stands it in good stead for the future.

“Trolleys and proximity have been the two key moving parts in UK grocery recently,” says Black. “Trolleys because people don’t wish to return to supermarkets more than they have to, and proximity because people will go for top-ups at shops more locally.

“In that respect, Sainsbury’s, with its superstore estate and large convenience store business, is actually pretty well placed.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing Roberts, as he prepares to steer Sainsbury’s through a recession, will be getting to know exactly what his customers need. It is something Sainsbury’s has not always got right in the past, says Black, as he recalls a campaign fronted by Monty Python actor John Cleese in the Nineties in which the supermarket attempted to put itself on a footing with Tesco by promoting itself as a value-for-money grocer. The campaign was axed and declared a flop.

“Getting that balance right, particularly as we go into a recession, is going to be vital,” says Black. “Sainsbury’s tends to have a slightly higher income, slightly older customer base that own their own homes and don’t have mortgages, but they do have cash.

“At the same time, family shoppers, particularly those facing unemployment, are going to have a totally different agenda when it comes to what they can afford to pay for their groceries. As a mass-market retailer, this is a challenge Sainsbury’s will face under Simon Roberts.”

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