It may not quite have reached the level of vitriol attached to bankers’ bonuses, but investor anger has been steadily intensifying on the pay of those in charge of the UK’s largest retailers.

Sainsbury’s annual report last week revealed that Justin King’s annual bonus fell 22% during the last financial year, while his overall pay fell almost 10% to £3.95m.

Down his pay may be, but King was the only chief executive of the UK-listed grocer to pick up any bonus whatsoever after Tesco’s poor performance meant executives did not meet bonus targets and Morrisons chief executive Dalton Philips decided to forego his £374k bonus.

M&S chief exec Mac Bolland was also revealed to have had his pay slashed in the retailer’s annual report last week, with his annual remuneration dropping 26% to £1.58m after M&S had previously announced it would pay no executive bonuses. Bolland and his fellow execs also declined pay rises for next year.

The falling pay at the top of these companies is clearly illustrative of the tough market for grocery retail, but they also reflect an increasingly militant mood among investors who are demanding that CEOs are not rewarded for failure.

At a feisty Morrisons AGM last Thursday, over a quarter (26.5%) voted down the supermarket’s pay policies, while last month investors revolted against the pay packages handed to execs at Ocado and Reckitt Benckiser (20% voted against Ocado’s remuneration report and 31.5% against Reckitt’s).

Dalton Philips had his hands full at a feisty Morrisons AGM

Investor anger is understandable – Morrisons shareholders, for example, have seen the value of their investments fall by over a third since September last year – and executive pay restraint seems an eminently sensible and possibly unavoidable response.

However, the actual remuneration policies behind these payments may also need re-examining as some companies are still paying out bonuses despite unacceptable financial performance.

This is certainly the case at Morrisons where the large shareholder vote against the company’s pay policy appeared largely down to Dalton Philips’ eligibility for a six-figure bonus last year despite the supermarket’s struggles in 2013/14.

Changes to bonus schemes were widely ushered in after the financial crisis to widen the focus of performance-related pay from purely financial measures.

Somewhat ironically it is this widened focus on factors such as customer service, environmental and sustainability progress and personal targets that has meant CEOs like Philips can pick up bonuses despite plunging sales and profits as long as other wider targets have been met.

Sir Ian Gibson pointed out at the Morrisons AGM that these changes to executive pay had initially been brought in on the advice of the company’s shareholders themselves.

It may now be time for these retailers to look at their pay plans again.

Back in 2010, Tesco shook up its remuneration policy after a shareholder revolt over excessive pay, creating more rounded objectives.

Earlier this month Tesco signified that the time had come to shake the plans up again due to the “rapidly changing market” and “customers embracing technology”.

The extent and nature of the changes will be announced at Tesco’s 2015 AGM, but the clues are there that some of the bonus metrics will be reconstituted to focus on progress made specifically in the online business.

Recent investor rebellions in the sector suggest Tesco won’t be the only company under pressure to more closely match executive bonuses with shareholders’ best interests.