Sainsbury’s Christmas ad has brought out the bigots and trolls on social media since it aired at the weekend. Goodwill to all is clearly in short supply in some quarters this festive season, but the grocer, not its critics, is in tune with the spirit of the times.

Sainsbury’s seasonal campaign is highly traditional. The first of the ads, ‘Gravy Song’, celebrates treasured family time and food. What’s made some choke on their turkey is the fact that the family featured happens to be black.

One of my favourite retail maxims, frequently used by Lord Rose when he was parachuted in to turn around Marks & Spencer in 2004, was “look out the window”.

It resonated in all sorts of ways and is just as applicable now, ultimately prompting fundamental questions: does a business look like the world that’s passing by on the other side of the glass, both in how it serves it and how it is reflected inside? Is the proposition relevant to contemporary consumers and are people like them working in, and helping shape, the business?

Sainsbury’s advert shows it to be a retailer that is looking out the window in a year of disruption and discontent, from the pandemic to the Black Lives Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd.

“Is there more to do? Of course. But that will only come as retailers – like other industries – continue to adapt”

The focus is on those closest to us in the year that brought us social distancing. In an unforced way, it also recognises the diverse world that retailers seek to serve.

Retail, and Britain, have always demonstrated those qualities, though few would argue that there is a long way still to go until internal structures fully reflect it in their make-up.

As far as consumers are concerned, back in the 19th century, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management included curry recipes – a product of the empire certainly, but still evidence of cosmopolitan consumer appetite. Today, you’ll find Jamaican patties on the shelves of the big grocers alongside the Cornish pasties. In Waterstones, you can pick up a copy of a Bernardine Evaristo novel or a Boris Johnson biography – it’s all part of a rich cultural and retail mix.

In tune with the majority

Leading retailers have, over a long time, reflected the momentum and recognised the opportunity of diversity. Selfridges was famously the first such department store to open women’s loos, recognising who its most important customers were, while Tesco has been a long-standing supporter of Pride.

When it comes to corporate inclusivity, this week’s Diversity Leaders ranking by the Financial Times included a raft of well-known retailers from Ikea to Timpson, AO to Pets at Home

Is there more to do? Of course. But that will only come as retailers – like other industries – continue to adapt. Sainsbury’s ad is a sign of willingness to do just that.

“Retail is open to all and for all. That’s not ‘woke’, it’s simply in tune with consumers and the times”

The Gravy Song ad had, at the time of writing, almost 10-times as many likes on YouTube as it had thumbs downs – 23,000 against 2,500. That shows it is in tune with the majority.

Also striking was the way that competitors rallied around Sainsbury’s on Twitter. Marks & Spencer tweeted: “We’re with you @sainsburys, Christmas is about bringing everyone together. And this is definitely not just any Christmas… P.S. nice gravy”. Waitrose used its own seasonal campaign hashtag in its supportive tweet: “We want to #GiveALittleLove @sainsburys – we love that your Christmas ads are representing a modern Britain and highlighting the diverse range of communities we have in our country.”

In response to its attackers, Sainsbury’s said: “We want to be the most inclusive retailer where colleagues love to work and customers love to shop.”

Who, seriously, would disagree with that? In the season of goodwill to all, retail is open to all and for all. That’s not ‘woke’, it’s simply in tune with consumers and the times – as retail at its best always has been.