Outgoing Tesco chief executive Sir Terry Leahy has claimed “a failure of imagination” is behind rivals’ inability to close the gap on the UK’s largest retailer.

Speaking to The Times, Sir Terry said the supermarket had long ago “stopped seeing ourselves as a purveyor of baked beans” and was a “world leader in seeing that services can be retailed in a discount way as products were”.

“You should always look forward and challenge yourself because although industries don’t change very much, consumers change enormously and you’ve got to be prepared to change rapidly to stay close to customers,” he said.

Asked why rivals had failed to match Tesco’s expansion into services, he claimed: “Sometimes it’s just a failure of imagination. The thing I would say is never set limits on yourself [and] don’t define your business by past experience. Look out and look forward.”

His comments come after Sir Terry last month announced he would step down as Tesco boss next March. He was upbeat about Tesco’s prospects for continued growth after his departure and said the retailer had “a hell of a lot more to do”.

“There’s good growth for Tesco around the world in future because of the markets we’ve opened up and the formats we’ve developed,” he said.

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