As a lifelong resident of south London I feel like I’ve been given a life sentence to shopping at Sainsbury’s. The weak link is the convenience stores.

After my comments on Inside John Lewis yesterday and about how it made John Lewis look a bit like Grace Brothers, I’ve been challenged to get Mrs Slocombe’s Pussy into today’s post. Have to admit I’m at a loss as to how.

Sainsbury’sQ4 trading update today was no great shakes, with ex-fuel like-for-like growth of just 1.7%, but I’m not sure Justin King will be losing too much sleep. It’s been up against strong comps and aggressive promotional activity from its rivals, and supermarket watchers are going to have to get used to more pedestrian rates of like for like growth now that inflation has dropped out of the market. I wouldn’t read much more into the numbers than that at this stage.

As a lifelong resident of south London I feel like I’ve been given a life sentence to shopping at Sainsbury’s. My first shopping memories were at what I believe was the last counter service supermarket in the UK, in Peckham, and then my dad and I being given a lift by our next door neighbour (in, believe it or not given where we lived, his three-wheeler) to the very exciting modern shop in Forest Hill, where once I foiled a shoplifter at the age of about 5 simply by being in his way and him falling over me. I got a glass of orange squash for my trouble.

So I’ve seen the business change down the years as a regular shopper, and one thing which has been clear to me is how the pace of change really has speeded up in King’s time in charge. He’s made the larger stores, like the hitherto awful Savacentre in Sydenham, into really inviting shops with a transformed non-food assortment, and standards of operations, service and even availability have been transformed (although its stores are still always out of Twinings peppermint tea bags).

The weak link is the convenience stores. As a non-car owner I have cause to shop in several of them frequently and the standards are pretty awful. To be fair Sainsbury’s isn’t alone in this, and small stores do have their own unique operational challenges. But I still don’t think the UK c-store experience has to be as bad as it is.

Sherpa wine

Sherpa has a great wine assortment.

I thought a lot about this when I was skiing in Tignes a couple of weeks back, when we were just a few steps away from a store belonging to the Sherpa chain of convenience stores. The contrast with a UK c-store was extraordinary, with a great wine assortment, butchers and charcuterie counters (with an amazing looking Paella in a big pan) and some really interesting products, but alongside all the run of the mill stuff you’d expect from any c-store, supplied by Casino.

Sherpa paella

The charcuterie counters included an amazing-looking Paella

It was really refreshing and a joy to shop there, and while, with some justification, the UK grocers might say that UK shoppers prefer ready meals, I’m sure there must be demand for a better quality c-store experience. Maybe Waitrose’s new 3,000 sq ft format will change the game, it’s about time someone did.