“If anything, some of the things that have happened will give us a big opportunity to
increase our differentiation,” said Mr Coupe. He said some rivals were reducing their
ranges to compete with the so-called hard discounters, which played into Sainsbury’s
hands, with its broader selection of products.
Bruno Monteyne, analyst at Bernstein, agreed that Sainsbury could be a winner from
the more competitive environment.
“Sainsbury offers this ‘quality food for the masses’ very successfully and the actions
of Morrison and Tesco moves them further away from the quality sector, further
strengthening Sainsbury’s differentiation,” he said.
According to industry figures from Kantar Worldpanel, the consumer research
group, Sainsbury increased sales by 6.2 per cent in the four weeks to April 27, while
Asda increased sales by 7.1 per cent. Tesco’s performance continued to lag, at a 0.9
per cent increase, although this was the first positive sales growth since November,
while Morrison’s sales fell by 3.3 per cent.
Clive Black, analyst at Shore Capital, was more cautious on Sainsbury’s prospects.
He said the company was in a stronger position than Asda, Morrison and Tesco “to
extol non-price elements of their offer. But like all of them I think Sainsbury is now
being more impacted by the hard discounters than it was in the past. It is therefore
not immune from the activity that is taking place in the market.”
Sainsbury’s shares fell 3 per cent in afternoon trading to 323.28p on concerns that it
had not given firm guidance on margins for this year.
Mr King acknowledged that as a result of the price cuts across the market, the cost of
staples, such as milk, was lower than a few months ago.
The comments came as underlying pre-tax profit rose from £758m to £798m, on
sales excluding VAT up 2.8 per cent to £23.95bn. Statutory pre-tax profit rose from
£772m to £898m, even as the supermarket group wrote off £92m for sites that it
would no longer develop.
Capital expenditure was £888m in the year to March 15, below the target of £1.1bn,
as it continued to open 1m sq ft of new space. Capital expenditure this year is
expected to be similar to that in 2013/14, as Sainsbury cuts its new space target to
750,000 sq ft. Thereafter, spending is expected to fall to between £700m and £800m
Analysts expect underlying pre-tax profit this year to fall to £762m, but Mr King
denied he was leaving at the top of the market.
“I understand completely why people would say I’m trying to get out at the top. I
made the point that I’m retaining a significant shareholding in the company as an
indication of my confidence,” he said.
“Ultimately, whatever happens in the price skirmishes we are currently seeing, we
are a business that is very well equipped to succeed in that environment. We have
been succeeding in that environment for a very long period of time”
- Justin King, outgoing Sainsbury chief executive