September 07, 2005

Sainsbury's needs simple systems and empowered staff

Several times this summer, we have returned milk to Sainsbury's which was within its sell by date, but which had turned to yoghurt within a day or two of purchase and periodically we return various cheeses. This doesn't happen to the milk or cheese we buy from Marks & Spencer or from Tesco. I hadn't thought much about this until I read this article last month: Sainsbury's fined over rancid milk

The rancid milk, still on the shelf 23 days after it should have been drunk was deemed "unfit for human consumption".

A spokeswoman for Sainsbury's said: "It's extremely rare for something like this to occur.

"The store sells 120,000 fresh products a week and we have elaborate systems in place for checking that all our products are well within the label dates and that out-dated stock is cleared from our stores every day.

This may well be an isolated incident, but I think I can guess at two ways this kind of problem develops.

First, why does JS have an "elaborate system" where surely a simple system would suffice?

Second, for a simple system to work, Sainsbury's has to employ staff who care about food and customer service, and give those staff the authority to take action the second a problem is brought to their attention. I told a member of staff last week that the chicken I wanted to buy was past its sell by date, he replied "you need to speak to Customer Services about that" before going about his business. The chicken, it seems, was in someone else's section.

I have no idea how Tesco or Asda compare, but if Sainsbury's wants to have any credibility as a food focused store, I believe simple systems and empowered staff are high on the list of requirements.

Have you had problems with freshness at your local Sainsbury's?

Posted by Adrian Trenholm on September 7, 2005 at 12:31 PM in Food, People | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

August 21, 2005

It's not what you know...

This is such an interesting comment from Hugh Macleod (on James Governor's Sainsbury's needs a blogging strategy), I feel it deserves a post all of its own:

Interesting... Justin King used to be the head of beers, wines, & spirits at ASDA. Under him, the head of wines was this guy called Nick. Directly under Nick was this guy called Alistaire.

Nick and Alistair are now over at Orbital Wines, who do.... Stormhoek.

Nick is the head of the company, Alistair is the head of sales.

And Sainsbury's just ordered some Stormhoek.

Small world.

Now if blogging works for Stormhoek, do you think the message might filter back to Mr King?

Posted by Adrian Trenholm on August 21, 2005 at 05:16 PM in People | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 20, 2005

Overheard in Sainsbury's

Will all staff members involved in this morning's huddle, please go to the warehouse area. All members for the huddle to warehouse area.

Do any staff members want to share what happens in a huddle? Genuine innovation? Or just a meeting with a shiny new name?

By the way, I was not the only customer to laugh out loud and shake my head when the announcement came over the tannoy.

Posted by Adrian Trenholm on August 20, 2005 at 10:51 AM in People | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 30, 2005

Sainsbury’s – Don’t Give a Damn...

Sainsbury’s produce an own-brand Swedish Style Vegetarian Meatball of which I am particularly fond. The only branch that sells it around here is in Farnham, Surrey.

However, because of their ongoing logistical problems, they seldom have it in stock. Since the branch is about a 30-minute drive away, I thought I would phone first to ask about its availability today.

Sadly, their phone just rings and rings until BT cuts in after 10 minutes and tells me that the call has not been answered and disconnects. Fortunately, my phone is hands-free so it is quite easy for me to try again while I get on with something else.

But after four such attempts and 40 minutes of waiting, I phoned Sainsbury’s call-centre (in Scotland by the sound of it) to ask if the Farnham branch is having a communications problem. Oh no, says the helpful operator: their phones are fine, it's just that that branch seldom bothers to answer! Ah well, as long as there's a reasonable explanation...

The behaviour of the call centre operator and the Farnham branch staff is quite simply internal sabotage. Branch staff should care enough about customers to take their calls. Being busy is not an excuse - they need to manage it. And what makes it infinitely worse is that the problem is so well known that even the Scottish call-centre knows about it, and despairs.

No wonder Sainsbury is in such trouble. In my experience, staff demotivation is the most difficult business problem to fix. If your employees do not care about your customers, you can be sure your customers will not care about your business.

But the story goes from bad to worse...

So, I phone the next nearest Sainsbury’s in Camberley, Surrey to ask whether they stock the product. They at least answer their phone, but their customer services person tells me that they are not allowed to stock that product in their branch. Why I ask? Is there some fanatical Viking group in the area that might be offended by Sainsbury’s Vegetarian Swedish Style Meatballs? No, she explains, it is just that certain stores are not allowed to stock particular products. What, even if a customer requests it, I ask? Yes, she says: it’s head-office policy. Well, there you have it.

Experiences like the above make it clear why Sainsbury’s is in such trouble. No amount of re-branding, re-positioning, better quality or better pricing can redeem them. Until there is an indication that they care about their customers, I do not believe that the company can be saved. And I have seen absolutely no change in this direction over the past 12 months.

Posted by Max Blumberg on May 30, 2005 at 12:58 PM in People | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 24, 2005

Sainsbury's induction - unofficial version

One of the benefits of monitoring blogs is that you get very direct feedback on your business. Here's what A Place for the Young and Restless thinks about the induction process for new employees at Sainsbury's.

well i just fiished my last day for the induciton at sainsburys. thank fuck its over, an induction lasting 2 days? this is really bad, it didnt help that the woman taking us through the induction didnt even have a fucking clue what was going on, guess i will jus have to 2nd guess everything when i actually start friday night. the only good thing about the induction was the fact i got paid, but to be honest that was the least they could fucking do. 2 days of them telling you how to lift boxes properly!!!! this is genral health and saftey shit, if you dont know this you shouldnt be in a job!! the only reason i went for this job is because the money is really good. means i wont be able to go out weekends for a pint with mates, but i can always go out during the week as i will have nothing to do from monday to friday evening! sweet.

Posted by Johnnie Moore on May 24, 2005 at 09:08 PM in People | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 08, 2005

The Feedster madness just keeps coming

I have been meaning to post this little story for a while: following on from all the Feedster fun, one of the linked bloggers immediately added 173 to his link roll (Thanks Chris), and another responded with this, which made me chuckle:

The last time I mentioned Sainsbury's (the story about the tomatoes) it was blogged in a blog about blogging about Sainsbury's. If I mention Sainsbury's enough, maybe Sainsbury's will sponsor me to write my journal. Maybe they'd pay me a full time salary to write about my shopping expeditions. Just imagine that!

And this, in BadAsstronaut’s comments, made me snort coffee out of my nose:

I was looking at glacé cherries in Waitrose last night. If I mention Waitrose enough times in your journal, will this make it into a blog about shopping in Waitrose?

To each I say: why not? When Justin King appoints the four of us to advise on Sainsbury’s blogging strategy – as he surely will any day now – we might just get in touch…

Posted by Adrian Trenholm on May 8, 2005 at 05:31 PM in People, Stories | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 02, 2005

Sainsbury and Innovation

I was reading Webster’s ideas on innovation (Webster, 1990). Like Drucker, Webster suggests that innovation is becoming a key factor for organisational survival. Without it, organisations will die.

Innovation is an important differentiator because while competitors can copy your cost infrastructure, your strategy and your marketing, they cannot easily imitate your ability to innovate.

Given that innovation is so vital, how much emphasis does Sainsbury place on it? Does the company culture encourage all who work there to think creatively and come up with ideas not yet thought of by Asda or Tesco?

We often think of innovation in new product terms, but of course one apply innovation finance, logistics, and marketing. Webster defines innovation as

A better thing to do or a better way to do it that contributes to an organisation's goals. It may be a method, structure, process, or product.

The problem with innovation is that organisations are often resistant to the cultural openness required for successful innovation. Successful innovation requires that everyone in the organisation be involved in the innovation process – not just the R&D department or senior management. What senior management must do however is to ensure that everyone in the organisation is encouraged to submit ideas and reward them accordingly. Senior management must also ensure that resources to implement innovation are available. Creativity without implementation is cheap talk.

Finally, Webster offers a process for implementing innovation in organisations:

1.      Creativity

This is the act of creativity. More and more companies are sending employees on creativity workshops and courses. Does Sainsbury?

2.      Vision

It is important that the vision of the innovator is in line with vision of the corporation. That is, innovation for its own sake rather than aligning with organisational intention achieves little.

3.      Commitment

The organisation must help to build commitment for the vision through communication, involvement, reinforcement, support, and influence. It is no good relying on the innovator to achieve all of this as the innovator may be a shop floor worker or lower management without the organisational resources to obtain commitment to the vision.

(Interestingly, 3M have a somewhat different attitude at this step: they believe that if employees are incapable of selling their own ideas to the organisation, the idea was probably not very good anyway. I do not agree with this approach for the reasons cited above).

4.      Management

Finally, resources for implementing and controlling the innovation must be available.

As you can see, fostering a culture where innovation thrives is hard work and requires deep cultural openness to change. But without it, organisations will die.

Do you view Sainsbury as an innovative organisation?


Webster B. (1990). “Innovation: we know we need it, but how do we do it?” in Hussey, D.E. and Lower, P. , editors, Key Issues in Management training, Kogan Page,



Posted by Max Blumberg on May 2, 2005 at 01:02 PM in People | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 24, 2005

Sainsbury: Too much Focus on the Bottom Line?

In order to remain competitive, Sainsbury – like most supermarkets - strives to minimise its costs. Major cost drivers include the cost of goods sold, staff salaries and property investments. One might imagine that keeping these to a minimum would lead to competitive pricing and increased market share.

However, an interesting article in the Economist suggests that successful retailer Costco pays its staff more than 50% higher than the industry average and yet sells more cheaply than most of its competitors, and remains enviably profitable. How is this possible, and what be might the lesson for Sainsbury?

My view is that the additional investment to attract and empower the workforce leads to more productive personnel who are better able to maintain supplier relationships leading to lower prices, and who are motivated to create effective logistical systems at lower cost. These cost savings more than offset the increased salary bill. Of course all of this requires significant culture change, but if not implemented could spell early demise or acquisition.

The retail industry does not have a culture of staff empowerment. In part, this may be because it has yet to embrace the knowledge era – the art of creating value through knowledge and people rather than through products and services. Instead, it gets locked into endless price wars and attempts to hold down costs rather than investing in knowledge workers whose very presence increases the value of the business.

In summary, Sainsbury needs to enter the knowledge era by hiring and paying for good personnel and viewing them as knowledge assets, not merely as an annoying addition to its outgoings.

Posted by Max Blumberg on April 24, 2005 at 08:16 PM in People | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

April 15, 2005

More feedster

I couldn't resist adding two more examples to Adrian's list of Feedster nuggets from yesterday. The recurring lesson following the Feedster on Sainsbury's is that retail is detail, something my erstwhile boss (Lord Alan Sainsbury) liked to remind me about a lot. A bit of confusion at the checkout and you lose your margin on a basket. A poor product (in this case at the Co-op) you risk losking the margin on a customer.

From How CSI am I: "The girl at the checkout in Sainsbury's was clearly confused when she reached into my basket and laid her hands upond five loose bananas. So extreme was her confusion that she pretended to scan them and press some buttons on her till before shooting me a look of guilt/embarassment and thrusting the bananas into a carrier bag. Hoorah! Five free bananas. I just hope they taste good. I'll let you know."

From Simple thoughts in a crazy world: "have jus finished the second box in my test..... COOPs attempt at cheap cornflakes...... hmm lets just say never before have I enjoyed brushing my teeth so much... "

Posted by Johnnie Moore on April 15, 2005 at 11:07 AM in People | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 14, 2005

Sainsbury's on Feedster

When I started writing on 173, I expected most of my friends and family to say "what are you doing that for?" Instead, almost everyone has talked with me about Sainsbury's, food and supermarkets in general, in surprising, knowledgable and passionate ways. Very few of these people are recognisable "Foodies."

To expand on those conversations, I set up a Feedster search, like Johnnie Moore to track what bloggers are saying about Sainsbury's. Of course, the results contain an awful lot of tosh, but there are also a lot of really interesting questions being asked and observations being made in relation to the food we eat and the way Sainsbury's sells it to us. And there is some laugh out loud stuff too.

I also set up a Google News Alert, which serves up Sainsbury's stories from national and local press and trade journals (Hat tip to Micheal Buffington for "alerting" me to Google Alert). I tend to blog more here in response to Google's findings, but in many ways, Feedster is the richer seam.

My point is this: shoppers care about a lot more than price. We care and talk about quality, variety, availability, environment, ethics, heritage... in fact, you name it, we talk about it. To really understand where, how and why we shop as we do, Sainsbury's needs to join in this conversation, instead of merely gathering market intelligence.

To get Sainsbury's started, here's a random selection from Feedster:

  1. Pewari's Prattle: Pewari and commenters, Lynn, Paula, Lisa, Blue Witch, Birdy and Tangerine Cath, begin by debating the cost of supermarket shopping, but quickly move on to the quality, the variety, even the environmental performance of Sainsbury's, Tesco, Aldi et al.
  2. Ministry of information: He glanced at the label and asked the obvious question - why did this food travel so far to reach my plate?
  3. .rant - vodka jelly for the soul?: Do we choose the "cheapest" supermarket? Or do we go to our nearest supermarket, then choose the goods within our price range? And if we do the latter, is there any point in price competition based on the "average shopping basket?"
  4. Eat Nottingham: Sainsbury's availability problems are not resolved, and Sainsbury's needs to learn from Waitrose, not ape Tesco.
  5. Swing Sushi: It's not all bad news - Christopher is delighted with the quality of his bargain Sainsbury's sushi.
  6. Bad Astronaut: How will Sainsbury's focus on food when its staff remain "boggled" by tomatoes? Be sure to follow the link in the comments to Richard Herring's Someone likes yoghurt
  7. Simple thoughts in a crazy world: "Over the coming weeks (only 10 left until the end of university) I shall be 'roadtesting' 500g own brand cornflakes from some of our nations favourite supermarkets... "

Come on, Sainsbury's, you can't reduce this stuff to a monthly questionnaire. This stuff is real, human, odd, quirky, funny, and immensely valuable. And with Feedster, Pub Sub et al, is is easier than ever to tap into this country's food culture. Show some imagination; get in the conversation.

The rest of you, if you know a blog or blogs you think Sainsbury's should read, then put it in the comments below. You never know, Sainsbury's might actually read them.

Posted by Adrian Trenholm on April 14, 2005 at 11:25 AM in People | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack