The current economic climate was bringing a "richer vein" of talent to the retailer, said Gwyn Burr, who has recently taken on responsibility for human resources as part of her customer service and colleague director role at Sainsbury's.
The retailer recruits 56 graduates a year to its scheme and usually receives about 5,000 applications. The increase of 20% was for the 09/10 intake who start in September.
"It's a tough climate for graduates now and they are looking for big brands to develop their career," Burr said. "You get good training and a good career path."
Burr will take on responsibility for human resources on 19 July following the exit of Imelda Walsh. Her new role will see her retain control of corporate responsibility, customer services, sponsorships and internal and external communications. Her brand marketing responsibility will be handed to trading director Mike Coupe.
"It's a coalition of a role and it's all about leveraging the people potential for our growth story," Burr said.
She will initially be looking to get store managers together to discuss retail issues and is currently on a tour speaking to managers.
Over the past year, Sainsbury's has recruited an additional 6,500 people and it is expecting to recruit the same number this year.