What is it about Sainsbury's?

Another impressive performance.

As expected Sainsbury’s has notched up another impressive performance across its full financial year, with LFL sales up by 1.8 per cent and profit growth in line with City expectations.  

A key driver of this success has been the development of Sainsbury’s own-label architecture, which has afforded it the ability to flex its offer to fragmenting consumer demand which has seen the simultaneous growth of both the value and premium ends of the food market. Its Basics and Taste the Difference sub-brands address the polar ends of the market well, while the re-launch of its mid-tier By Sainsbury’s sub-brand has appealed to shoppers seeking price competitive alternatives to branded products. 

This balanced positioning has been complemented by targeted discounting, that encourages loyalty without widespread damage to margins. Sainsbury’s has notably achieved this through its Brand Match and leveraging its Nectar card programme for sales promotions. Moreover, while Tesco’s Price Promise offers a functional threat to footfall, "value-for-money" is at the heart of the Sainsbury’s DNA, as part of its Live Well for Less push. This is evident in creative campaigns such as "Feed Your Family For A Fiver", that have served to strengthen value credentials.

Taken together, the well segmented range and the targeted promotional activity is insulating Sainsbury’s in a climate where consumer loyalty is fickle and hard discounters are excelling.

Supporting these brand developments has been a store strategy which is suited to emerging market dynamics.  Sainsbury’s has traditionally had less of a focus on hypermarket formats compared to Asda and Tesco and has thus not been as impacted by the more negative performance of these store types. Instead its convenience-led strategy has paid dividends, with sales growing 17 per cent across this format, following the opening of a further 87 convenience stores during the year.

Wider afield, Sainsbury’s is also reaping the rewards for investments in its supply chain and procurement systems. Its close relationships with farmers, which has included an investment of £40 m in Farmer Development Groups since 2006, has ensured it has traceability and integrity. This helped Sainsbury’s avoid being engulfed in the horsemeat scandal, as many of its competitions were. 

Sainsbury’s also has a compelling growth story to tell in other areas of its business. Annual online grocery sales are now approaching £1billion, growing nearly 20 per cent over the year. Elsewhere, its non-food offer is relatively immature compared to its supermarket competitors; its general merchandise and clothing sales continue to grow at more than twice the rate of food, offering future scope for growth. In addition, with the announcement that the it is acquiring Lloyds Banking Group’s 50 per cent shareholding in Sainsbury’s Bank, Sainsbury’s has further opportunities to further leverage its brand loyalty at a time when consumers still lack confidence in core financial institutions.

On the horizon, Sainsbury’s does face both immediate and longer term challenges. Strong comparatives will undoubtedly provide a challenge, particularly considering the wider economic backdrop. Tesco’s resurgence is also a threat, as its own investment programme in own brand, store strategy and price competitiveness gathers pace. More pertinently, rumours of chief executive Justin King’s departure,  have caused some uncertainty among investors. That said for now at least, its proactive approach to evolving shopping trends leaves it ideally placed to make further market share gains.

Photograph: Getty Images

 Managing Director of Conlumino

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A small dose of facts could transform Britain's immigration debate

While "myth-busting" doesn't always work, there is an appetite for a better informed conversation than the one we're having now. 

For some time opinion polls have shown that the public sees immigration as one of the most important issues facing Britain. At the same time, public understanding of the economic and social impacts of immigration is poor and strongly influenced by the media: people consistently over-estimate the proportion of the population born outside the UK and know little about policy measures such as the cap on skilled non-EU migration. The public gets it wrong on other issues too - on teenage pregnancy, the Muslim population of the UK and benefit fraud to name just three. However, in the case of immigration, the strength of public opinion has led governments and political parties to reformulate policies and rules. Theresa May said she was cracking down on “health tourists” not because of any evidence they exist but because of public “feeling”. Immigration was of course a key factor in David Cameron’s decision to call a referendum on the UK’s membership with the EU and has been central to his current renegotiations.  

Do immigration facts always make us more stubborn and confused?

The question of how to both improve public understanding and raise the low quality of the immigration debate has been exercising the minds of those with a policy and research interest in the issue. Could the use of facts address misconceptions, improve the abysmally low quality of the debate and bring evidence to policy making? The respected think tank British Future rightly warns of the dangers associated with excessive reliance on statistical and economic evidence. Their own research finds that it leaves people hardened and confused. Where does that leave those of us who believe in informed debate and evidence based policy? Can a more limited use of facts help improve understandings and raise the quality of the debate?

My colleagues Jonathan Portes and Nathan Hudson-Sharp and I set out to look at whether attitudes towards immigration can be influenced by evidence, presented in a simple and straightforward way. We scripted a short video animation in a cartoon format conveying some statistics and simple messages taken from research findings on the economic and social impacts of immigration.

Targeted at a wide audience, we framed the video within a ‘cost-benefit’ narrative, showing the economic benefits through migrants’ skills and taxes and the (limited) impact on services. A pilot was shown to focus groups attended separately by the general public, school pupils studying ‘A’ level economics and employers.

Some statistics are useful

To some extent our findings confirm that the public is not very interested in big statistics, such as the number of migrants in the UK. But our respondents did find some statistics useful. These included rates of benefit claims among migrants, effects on wages, effects on jobs and the economic contribution of migrants through taxes. They also wanted more information from which to answer their own questions about immigration. These related to a number of current narratives around selective migration versus free movement, ‘welfare tourism’ and the idea that our services are under strain.

Our research suggests that statistics can play a useful role in the immigration debate when linked closely to specific issues that are of direct concern to the public. There is a role for careful and accurate explanation of the evidence, and indeed there is considerable demand for this among people who are interested in immigration but do not have strong preconceptions. At the same time, there was a clear message from the focus groups that statistics should be kept simple. Participants also wanted to be sure that the statistics they were given were from credible and unbiased sources.

The public is ready for a more sophisticated public debate on immigration

The appetite for facts and interest in having an informed debate was clear, but can views be changed through fact-based evidence? We found that when situated within a facts-based discussion, our participants questioned some common misconceptions about the impact of immigration on jobs, pay and services. Participants saw the ‘costs and benefits’ narrative of the video as meaningful, responding particularly to the message that immigrants contribute to their costs through paying taxes. They also talked of a range of other economic, social and cultural contributions. But they also felt that those impacts were not the full story. They were also concerned about the perceived impact of immigration on communities, where issues become more complex, subjective and intangible for statistics to be used in a meaningful way.

Opinion poll findings are often taken as proof that the public cannot have a sensible discussion on immigration and the debate is frequently described as ‘toxic’. But our research suggests that behind headline figures showing concern for its scale there may be both a more nuanced set of views and a real appetite for informed discussion. A small dose of statistics might just help to detoxify the debate. With immigration a deciding factor in how people cast their vote in the forthcoming referendum there can be no better time to try.