In posting a 6.2% rise in underlying pre-tax year-end profits, Sainsbury’s deflected some attention away from the rumours surrounding Justin King’s eventual departure.

In posting a 6.2% rise in underlying pre-tax year-end profits, beating expectations and clocking up its 33rd consecutive rise in quarterly like-for-like growth, Sainsbury’s deflected some attention away from the rumours surrounding Justin King’s eventual departure.

King has built one of the most resilient businesses in UK retail, driven by an intuitive understanding of his core customers, an enviable track record in marketing and prudent investments in growth opportunities.

This year has been a perfect case in point. The sponsorship of the Paralympic Games proved inspired, growth online and in convenience stores has driven market share gains and, in reaching an agreement to take full ownership of Sainsbury’s Bank, the business continues to add momentum to its strategy of developing complementary services and channels for its customers.

We’ve become used to hearing Sainsbury’s has outperformed the market, but set against an economic backdrop that has squeezed so many other retailers that are pitched towards the premium end, that familiarity should not dull the credit due to King and his team.

King emphasised this week that the grocer is “well positioned for future growth”, but that prognosis will do little to quell the questions that surround its future. Strategically, its online business remains less advanced than Asda and Tesco, particularly in clothing, and it is yet to seek growth overseas. But, ultimately, the biggest concern is what happens when King departs.

Although King himself has deflected suggestions he’s in the autumn of his tenure, his charismatic leadership has become so synonymous with the success of the last decade that Sainsbury’s will operate in the shadow of that question until the future becomes clear.