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Mike Coupe: Why Sainsbury’s will thrive for another 150 years

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In those days the United Kingdom was reaping the benefits of the industrial revolution, London was at the heart of the British Empire and the retail sector comprised mainly market stalls and small stores.
 
It is quite an achievement for a business to celebrate 150 years so it feels like an important time to reflect on how Sainsbury’s has evolved to adapt to the changing nature of retail and how we will prepare for the future.
 
Over the past 150 years, the company has lived through six monarchs, 26 Prime Ministers and two World Wars, but I am only the eleventh CEO.
 
That stability has enabled Sainsbury’s to remain consistent to the values championed by our founders.
 
John James and Mary Ann wanted to set up store that would offer people safe food so they focused on cleanliness and hygiene, at a time when this wasn’t a priority for many other retailers.
 
“Quality perfect, prices lower” was their slogan and it remains the ethos of the business today.
 
The first Sainsbury’s sold only 3 products: butter, milk and eggs.
 
However they soon realised that customers wanted a much wider range of products and wanted to be able to visit stores across the country.
 
So Sainsbury’s adapted to meet the changing social and economic circumstances taking place across the UK.
 
Within thirty years, we opened 98 new branches and celebrated the opening of our 100th store in 1903.
 
During the first world war we employed the first female sales assistants to help keep the business running while the men went to war.
 
In the second world war, many of our stores were bombed and one even had to open temporarily in a church hall. 
 
And in 1950 we converted the London Road, Croydon store to be our first self-service store.
 
I believe that this approach to our business helped Sainsbury’s through the economic peaks and troughs of the twentieth century.
 
But It was only by looking ahead to future retail trends that the business was able to maintain its place in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
 
Sainsbury’s was the first major grocery retailer to open a self-service store, the first to sell organic food and the first to launch a food range for allergy sufferers.
 
We were also ahead of the curve when it came to introducing same-day and one hour grocery delivery as well as opening the UK’s first till-free store earlier this month.
 
As shopping habits continue to change, we need to continue to adapt and evolve the business to get ahead of them. 
 
Currently that means a real focus on value to compete with the discounters and continuing to invest in technology to meet the growth of online shopping. Almost 20% of our business is now online and that will grow considerably over the next few years. 
 
Over the next 150 years we need to look hard at how we continue to create food with dwindling natural resources. 
 
I don’t believe our founders could have imagined what our world is like now so it is hard to imagine what our food world will look like in 150 years.
 
But we can still look ahead.
 
Our food trends report last week showed that, in five years’ time, we could be eating insect carbonara and drinking algae milk lattes as we incorporate more sustainable forms of protein into our diets.
 
It also showed that, in 30 years’ time, we could be eating jellyfish for dinner given its richness in vitamins and nutrients.
 
Back in the present, we wanted to celebrate our 150th birthday with our colleagues first and foremost. Many of them will visit our 150 experience this week which is a replica of our original store close to where we started in Drury Lane, London.  
 
Sainsbury’s has always played an important role in communities and, to mark our birthday, we’re giving all of our colleagues a day to help in their local communities so that our birthday creates a real community legacy across the UK.  
 
I believe Sainsbury’s has succeeded by remaining true to our values, adapting to changing circumstances and looking ahead to prepare for future trends.
 
Those values have stood us in good stead over the past 150 years and I am confident they will continue to guide us as we navigate the next 150 years.

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