Pulling out the headlines from a preliminary results announcement is generally a rather irksome affair.

Many retailers prove adept at deploying smoke and mirrors and slathering the numbers with descriptors like ‘underlying’.

With the Sainsbury’s full-year results this morning, there was a new layer of opacity due to Argos being bundled into the numbers, but there was also a refreshing glimpse of candour – a stark statement that “supermarket sales declined by nearly 2%.”

There are some exogenous factors at play here.

Calendar vagaries meant that Mother’s Day and Easter fell out of the grocer’s fourth quarter and into the current financial year.

One senses that Tesco and Morrisons have raised their games to sufficiently trouble Sainsbury’s and I can’t help but suspect that Sainsbury’s convenience division might have grown more strongly were it not for the superlative showing from the Co-op.

There is much to admire in the performance from the supermarket division.

Pricing and range

There has been some robust action on pricing and I can only admire the removal of multi-buys in many categories – it really does make life simpler for shoppers and stops penalising smaller households, many of whom would struggle to eat three entire chickens in as many days.

There has been the typical level of innovation and range development from JS in areas such as Free From and there are plenty of nice long-term merchandising touches in stores, like the chilled ends with recipe suggestions and all of the required ingredients in one place.

However, my concern – albeit a modest one – is that Sainsbury’s is not doing itself justice in a number of key areas.

“Everyone does three-for-two on battered prawns, microscopic burgers and Lilliputian quiches. Sainsbury’s should reconsider back-pedalling”

Despite trumpeting the winning of availability awards, this is not mirrored in the two stores that I visit most frequently.

While this might be a localised aberration, anecdotal evidence suggests that gaps in produce and chilled might be a wider problem.

Returning to the multi-buy exorcism, I am convinced that this is a broadly welcome and admirable initiative.

However, for some seasonal ranges (Christmas party food being the prime example), three-for-two is not a baffling maelstrom of confusion, it is a hygiene factor.

Everyone does three-for-two on battered prawns, microscopic burgers and Lilliputian quiches. Sainsbury’s should reconsider back-pedalling on this one.

Marketing hiccups

Another issue is marketing. The overall ‘… is Living Well’ theme of recent campaigns is quite endearing, and the actual Food Dancing TV ad was enjoyable enough.

Unfortunately, the in-store execution was borderline incomprehensible – a personal favourite being a picture of a dancing toddler atop an end-cap of Jack Daniel’s.

It must be noted that more recent iterations are altogether more impressive.

Nectar loyalty scheme

A final worry is the Nectar loyalty programme. As a shopper, it comes across as an afterthought, and as an analyst it seems to be in a similar place for the retailer.

“Several shoppers were fairly dismissive of Nectar, suggesting that it was merely a vouchering mechanic”

In fact, the only mentions it gets this morning are in relation to financial services.

I sat in on some focus groups recently and several shoppers were fairly dismissive of Nectar.

Furthermore, they asserted that it was a vouchering mechanic that was focused on incentivising disloyal shoppers rather than thanking loyal customers.

Perhaps a refresh should be on the (loyalty) cards.