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

Photo: Getty
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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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