British supermarket chain

"Our mission is to be the consumer’s first choice for a competitive cost..." - Sainsbury's Mission Statement

"I am a foodie. So I go to Sainsburys." -

There was a time, when I lived in a shared house in Nottingham, that Sainsbury's was my salvation, and with some justification. Firstly, it was big, I mean BIG. It had pretty much everything you could need, in copious variety and quantity. You want pasta? There's an entire aisle of it - European, domestic, gluten-free, organic, every colour and shape you could wish, as plain or exotic as you liked.

Veggies in abundance, speciality teas, coffees, sandwiches in every degree and six different types of shopping trolley (carts, to you Americans). The cafe (sorry, restaurant) was once written up in glowing terms in the local newspaper's food column. In short, a foodie's wet dream.

Of course, you had to be a bloody Rockefeller to afford to shop there, but since when was that an issue? Put it on the credit card, worry about it next month...

Some History

The Sainsbury's group of companies began life in 1869 as a modest dairy in Drury Lane, London. John Sainsbury and his new wife, Mary Ann, had saved enough to open the shop, selling dairy produce and eggs. Their commitment to quality and good service meant that the shop became very popular, and more premises were found to expand the business, and the second shop opened in KentishTown in 1873. Ever keen on innovation, Sainsbury installed a 'mechanical cow' machine, so that customers could buy milk even when the shop was closed! 1875 saw a third shop in Kentish Town, which specialised in selling bacon and ham, and another shop was opened in the same street ten years later. *

John saw that times were changing, and in 1882 decided to open a larger store in Croydon, south of London. Croydon was attracting the wealthier middle classes, who took advantage of the railway to get about, and were ripe for the picking. The new store was large, lavish and appealing, with a marble store front and stained glass and tiled decoration. The provisions, too, differed - cheeses from all over Europe, specially made sausages and Sainsbury's own brand of meat products gave a much wider range. Luxury foods were now on the agenda - game birds being among them.

Sainsbury also knew his customers' preferences - being middle-class, not for them the chore of taking their purchases home! Sainsbury's would deliver their groceries, and whether by bicycle or horse and cart, they had the luxury of home delivery. This strategy obviously worked - by 1896, they had expanded into the shop next door, and from there, the expansion of the Sainsbury empire really took off. Further stores outside London began to do good trade, beginning in Watford in 1898.

The chain continued to expand into the southeast and East Anglia, and by 1925, had 166 branches, from Norwich in the east to Oxford in the west and Bournemouth in the south. Expansion continued at a great rate, fuelled by the reputation for quality provisions and excellent customer service.

Post WWII and Self-service

Many towns had suffered in The Blitz, and from the bombed remains arose new shopping centres, with more modern premises, and better access. The New Towns were being built to house the growing commuter population of London, and a growing number of people had cars. The end of rationing meant that people were eager to try new foods, and imported luxury items began to appear on Sainsbury's shelves again. Technology meant that all stores and more customers, had access to refrigeration. Tinned food began to appear more and more, and the range of available foodstuffs was growing.

The development of self service was quite a shock to the traditional British shopper, but by the 1950s, the development of New Towns meant that a change in shopping habits was due. Sainsbury responded with larger stores, 'supermarkets', in which shoppers chose their own produce and took it home with them. The culture shock was too much for many, however, and the stores were obliged to give out leaflets on "How to shop self-service"! The larger stores were increasingly being staffed and run by women - Sainsbury's had long held the view that women were as capable of managing a business as men, and they responded accordingly.

Sainsbury's today

Today, Sainsbury's employs almost 200,000 people, 141,000 of whom work for the supermarkets side of the business. But Sainsbury's is now so much more than a grocery store. Sainsbury's Bank, founded in 1997 has around 1.25 million customers, and their Property Company oversees property assets of around £4.5 billion in the UK alone. The J Sainsbury Developments company is responsible for developing and letting retail sites, but has diversified into mixed-use developments incorporating retail, office and residential space. Their commitment to the environment can be seen at their distribution depot in East Kilbride, Scotland, where they have installed the UK's first non-subsidised commercial wind turbine, which provides almost half of the depot's power. For a while, they owned the Homebase chain of DIY stores, before selling it in the March 2001.

The supermarket side of the business is not to be sneezed at, however - a typical supermarket may offer up to 23,000 products (of which 40% are own brand). They led the way to providing ancilliary services to their customers - on-site petrol stations, in-store pharmacies and other facilities are now commonplace.

In 2001,they reported sales of £18.4 billion and a profit of £549 million. Statistics aside, Sainsbury's still endeavours to offer the same level of service and quality as John Sainsbury originally worked for. The range and quality of food is still perceived as being very high, although a recent Consumers' Association report found that their chicken was more likely to be contaminated than Tesco or Asda chicken. For many people, Sainsbury's is still considered to be more for the 'middle-class' shopper, a cut above the standard supermarket fare. John would have been proud.

* The Kentish town store closed in about 1990, the closest now being either Camden or Islington.

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