Sainsbury’s departing chief executive Justin King insisted he is not leaving on a low despite the grocer reporting a 1.1% fall in like-for-like sales excluding petrol in its first quarter.
King, who will leave the grocer next month after ten years, said: “Of course I would prefer sales to be growing but I don’t think it is a low. The business is in great shape, and will go on from strength to strength. I don’t think my tenure will be judged just on the last quarter.”
He added: “You deliver a performance in the context of a market, and the market is at its lowest in ten years. I am leaving while our competitive position remains very strong.”
Commercial director Mike Coupe, who will succeed King in July, said: “When Justin started at the business we were serving 14 million customers a week, we’re now serving 24 million a week – that’s a great achievement.”
King said he is “leaving the business in great hands” with the team led by Coupe and finance boss John Rogers, adding “the way we are transitioning gives the business the maximum opportunity to go from strength to strength”.
Sainsbury’s total retail sales edged up 1% excluding petrol in the quarter, for the 12 weeks to June 7. It has also unveiled two new trials – a click-and-collect service with London Underground and an online clothing pilot.
King said he did not have any major regrets and the “fun of retail” was that “you can try things and sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t, but you can keep trying”.
He gave the example of Fresh Kitchen, the sandwich shop it trialled, which has now closed. “It didn’t work but in that space now is a convenience store which is trading extremely well. We tried it, it didn’t work, so we put in a different proposition.”
King said he hoped the two trials of click-and-collect and online clothing “would turn into very successful businesses” and added: “There’s lots more to do, plenty more mistakes and plenty more successes.”