Making sense of the past seven days
The mighty Tesco issued its update today, concluding a rollercoaster week in grocery. While its performance will provide the gauge against which all store chiefs must measure themselves, there is plenty to learn from the recent antics at Morrisons, as well as Sainsbury's first-quarter statement yesterday.

Sainsbury's first. The grocer's ability to deliver a second consecutive quarter of like-for-like growth is testament to the changes ushered in by boss Justin King and his team. But Sainsbury's can't afford to get complacent - a 1.3 per cent comparable sales rise was good in this cold trading climate, but needs to be sustained to represent more than breathing space.

However, the Sainsbury's team has not shirked the challenge so far. It was shocking that retail essentials such as good availability and competitive prices were overlooked by the old regime and it's to King's credit that he has started to redress that negligence. The foundations he has laid gives Sainsbury's the chance - let's not get over-excited just yet - to reassert its position and go for further market share growth.

In contrast, Sir Ken Morrison has provided examples aplenty in the past few months of how to undermine a business that once seemed as rock-solid as the Pennines of his native Yorkshire. For several days, the saga of the Morrisons boardroom row has been in the headlines. Eventually, three non-executives were named - a victory for deputy chairman David Jones.

A leading Morrisons investor told me the other day that he welcomed Jones's remodelling of the board, but thought Sir Ken should remain as chairman because of his razor-sharp retail skills. But you have to ask whether Sir Ken's style - of retail as well as corporate governance - is what is needed. Earlier this year he claimed not to know what a 'middle class shopper is'.

If that's true, then what hope is there for a long-term improvement at the business under his leadership? Rivals such as Tesco and Asda have grown because - rather like deputy prime minister John Prescott - they think that ordinary folk deserve the sort of treats that were once strictly the preserve of their social betters. Affordable champagne, fresh pasta, organic food, smoked salmon - you'd expect to find the lot in any decent local supermarket. And you'd feel amused, at best, if your local shopkeeper thought such delicacies weren't for the likes of you. The irony is, of course, that Morrisons does sell all this, so why does Sir Ken stick to his curmudgeonly pie and peas-style script?

Speculation is rife once again that Archie Norman may yet be reeled in as a heavyweight non-executive at Morrisons. He's exactly the sort of person that's needed, because he understands that value and aspiration go hand in hand in today's food market. Justin King clearly feels the same. With a lifetime's experience in grocery, it's sad that Sir Ken - for so long one of the smartest retailers - seems to be losing sight of the customer.

  • Surely talk that Carrefour is pondering a merger with Sainsbury's must be wide of the mark? Let's hope so. Luc Vandevelde made a pig's ear of things during his time at Marks & Spencer. Call the ambulance straight away if another of our great retail institutions is given over to his care.