Housewife’s friend Justin King wins the Christmas sales war for Sainsbury’s

By increasing his December sales by 7.8 per cent (and sales in the whole 12-week period by seven per cent) and nudging Sainsbury’s ahead of Asda in terms of December market share (16.6 to 16.5).

The average sales increase of the big four (Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons) was around five per cent so King, once again, has demonstrated his knack of providing an appealing mixture of product and prices. Sainsbury’s sales of non-food items, mostly gifts, rose faster than food in the period.

But the key to King’s success in the seven or so years he has been at Sainsbury’s is in succeeding in just getting products into the store. Under his predecessors Peter Davis, Dino Adriano and David Sainsbury (a member of the founding family) dire distribution problems meant that Sainsbury’s customers were as often as not looking at half-empty shelves.

The British public has always liked Sainsbury’s more than its big rivals but Tesco was able to overtake Sainsbury’s as market leader in 1995 (and Asda went to number two in 2003 despite having far fewer stores) by exploiting Sainsbury’s self-inflicted weakness.

King, who had been in charge of food at Marks & Spencer before he took over, was almost the last throw of the dice and many pundits thought he lacked the grit or experience to stem the decline at Sainsbury’s in the face of such ferocious competition from Walmart-owned Asda and Tesco, arguably the world’s most powerful retailers.

They were wrong of course although such qualities are kept well-hidden under an urbane and cheery exterior from King, even when, as he was on Radio Four’s Today this morning, he is asked a series of daft questions.

Retail watchers are waiting with anticipation for new Tesco boss Philip Clarke to undertake his first soundbite-sized interview on the Beeb. Clarke doesn’t suffer fools at all.

Here’s Justin showing how it should be done, plugging the company’s jobs in another BBC interview.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.