Sainsbury’s boss Justin King should be feeling pretty pleased with himself. Having successfully silenced all the naysayers who said Sainsbury’s would be the first to suffer in the height of the recession, he is continuing to steer his ship onto a winning course as the economy improves.

Sainsbury’s boss Justin King should be feeling pretty pleased with himself. Having successfully silenced all the naysayers who said Sainsbury’s would be the first to suffer in the height of the recession, he is continuing to steer his ship onto a winning course as the economy improves.

When the recession took hold, Sainsbury’s reacted immediately with innovative promotions such as Switch and Save whereby shoppers were encouraged to swap branded for own-brand to save money. These initiatives helped stop shoppers deserting Sainsbury’s for its cheaper rivals in search of bargains.

While the economy remains tough, Sainsbury’s is well aware that shoppers are starting to treat themselves again, and is pushing both its top-end food and non-food ranges. Last week saw the £1bn relaunch of its top tier range Taste the Difference, with the aim of pushing its quality credentials. The move was no doubt also an attempt to stop shoppers trading up to Waitrose or M&S.

Last week also saw the opening of its largest store to date, a 100,000 sq ft shop in Crayford, Kent. The store is a step on for Sainsbury’s. Much is made of the non-food with the clothing, home, entertainment and electricals departments all looking more akin to a department store than to a supermarket. And the store is also trialling a US-style kitchen where fresh meals are prepared to sell over the counter, and in the cafe.

The result is growth ahead of expectations, with this week Sainsbury’s delivering like-for-likes ahead of rival Tesco. Shore Capital analyst Clive Black said its performance was “no mean feat” in the tough climate.

King is singing the praises of his team, but he’s also thinking about where to go next. The grocer has been eyeing China as a possibility for its first overseas foray for 10 years and no doubt other international markets are also being explored.

Come next year King will be the longest-serving chief executive of the big four grocers, and with a stable team around him, he looks set to continue to raise the bar.