Morrisons has hired former Asda executive Barry Williams to a key trading role and analysts believe he will boost the grocer’s purchasing power.
As trading director for ambient, Williams will lead critical categories for Morrisons including grocery, beers, wines and spirits, baby goods, household and health and beauty.
One of Morrisons chief executive David Potts’ key priorities is to make the grocer more competitive, particularly compared with discounter rivals Aldi and Lidl.
The grocer this morning revealed it will slash prices on around 160 products this week, cutting the prices of meat, fruit and vegetables by an average of 12%, as part of the latest investment into its Price Crunch campaign. Last month, the grocer lowered prices of 1,000 basket staples by an average of 18%.
“He is a familiar face with grocery suppliers. He is very good at working on joint ventures and building long-term relationships”
Phil Dorrell, Retail Remedy
Phil Dorrell, analyst at Retail Remedy, says Williams will help Morrisons boost its purchasing power to enable such price reductions.
“He is a familiar face with grocery suppliers. He is very good at working on joint ventures and building long-term relationships,” he says.
Williams will be reunited with former Asda chief merchandising officer Darren Blackhurst, who leads Morrisons’ commercial team. Dorrell, who used to work at Asda, says the pair make a compelling double act. “Barry is great at building relationships while Darren is more strategic,” he says.
A grocery veteran
Williams has worked in grocery for more than 25 years, taking his first job at Kwik Save in 1990 at the age of 19. The Scouser had his heart set on playing for his beloved Everton or becoming the next Paul Weller, but he found he had a natural skill for trading.
A long career in food retail ensued. He has worked at The Co-op, former Budgens and Londis owner Musgrave and, most recently, Asda.
Williams spent almost eight years at the Walmart-owned grocer, working his way up from category director for beers, wines and spirits to chief merchandising offer for food, and – as of last January – chief customer officer. Sources suggest he left Asda because he wanted to return to a hands-on trading position.
Making the most of fresh and own brand
Williams has much to get his teeth into at Morrisons. Dorrell says a key priority should be building its fresh offer, Market Street, which he says should be the jewel in Morrisons’ crown.
“Lots of work needs to be done to rejuvenate Market Street and make sure customers know it’s something unique to Morrisons,” says Dorrell.
”Morrisons needs to create own-label products that can compete with Aldi and Lidl”
Richard Clark, Bernstein
Bernstein analyst Richard Clark says Williams should also focus on building Morrisons’ own-brand business.
“It needs to create own-label products that can compete with Aldi and Lidl,” he says.
However, it is not just about creating a compelling basic offer. Morrisons is also revamping its premium range and is in the process of relaunching its Morrisons The Best range that was axed under previous chief executive Dalton Philips.
The own-brand will make its debut ahead of Williams’ arrival next February. However, he will need to ensure it competes with premium offerings from other grocers, including Tesco Finest and Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference, in terms of quality and value.
Morrisons – and Williams’ former employer Asda – have lagged others in the market in terms of own-brand sales.
Own-brand made up 45% of sales at both Morrisons and Asda last year, compared to 49% at Tesco, 51% at Sainsbury’s, 54% at Waitrose and a whopping 91% at Aldi, according to Kantar Worldpanel data.
Williams has experience in developing own-brand and has previously told Retail Week that the expansion of Asda’s Butcher’s selection was one of the proudest achievements in his career. He will no doubt seek to replicate its success at Morrisons.
Outside of work, family man Williams has three young sons and two grown-up children. When he is not listening to ’the Modfather’ Paul Weller, Williams can be found riding his Lambretta. He visits the famous Isle of Wight scooter rally every year.
Williams also owns a greyhound with some of his ex-Asda colleagues, which they named Rollback. The dog might need to be renamed Market Street when Williams joins Morrisons next year.
Potts will hope that when he arrives, Williams will be fastest out of the traps and can make quick progress in Morrisons’ turnaround.
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