As the Safeway saga nears a conclusion, shoppers and industry chiefs reveal their preferred end result. Liz Hamson reports

Most consumers think the supermarket sector would benefit if retail entrepreneur Philip Green bought Safeway. As well as the alarming statistic that 52% did not care about the outcome of the auction (see p4), the TNS consumer survey carried out exclusively for The Grocer revealed that 53% of consumers thought it would be “a good thing” if the Bhs and Arcadia owner took over the chain.

Only 29% thought it would be a “bad thing” despite Green’s lack of a track record in grocery and the likelihood he would split up and sell off the chain if he won, while 18% said they did not know.

Highlighting consumer ambivalence over the sale, the survey backed up comments made by consumers in an ID Magasin panel, also conducted exclusively for The Grocer (see overleaf). ID Magasin chairman Siemon Scamell-Katz, said: “Consumers only seem concerned about who owns Safeway if they believe that it will have a knock-on effect on their shopping trips or their perception of choice or value. Supermarkets are sufficiently similar so what is primarily driving most consumers is convenience - usually of location.”

Consumer views contrast strongly with those of industry chiefs (also see overleaf) who mostly backed Morrisons.

The TNS findings are likely to come as some surprise to those who thought that Green did not figure at all on the public radar as will the nature of his support. A breakdown of the statistics by age revealed that 66% of 25 to 34-year-olds backed him but only 36% of over-65s - suggesting that his strong media profile has swayed the opinion of younger consumers.

The survey, which also showed that 43% did not know Safeway was up for sale, underscored striking differences in opinion between men and women, different social classes and regions.

Asked which of the potential trade buyers they would prefer to win, consumers narrowly backed Asda against Tesco (28% and 24% respectively). However, the figure was skewed by a 31% female vote in favour of Asda (23% backed Tesco), whereas the male vote was the same for both Asda and Tesco (26%).

Northern chain Morrisons came third overall with 21% of the vote, but was hampered by its lack of presence in southern England and Scotland where it picked up only 11% and 8% of the vote respectively - though bizarrely in Wales where it also has limited presence it secured 34%.

Latest Cantor Index odds:

Morrisons 5-2

Philip Green 3-1

Asda 4-1

Tesco 10-1

Morrisons Sainsbury joint bid16-1

Sainsbury 20-1