An eerie silence has descended over grocery. One supplier called Tesco “leaderless” this week. The leader’s there all right. So the problem cannot be categorised simply in terms of leadership. It is one of fear. With three further category director level suspensions this week, the senior UK management team at Tesco has clearly been poleaxed. But as phones are seized, emails trawled and buyers interrogated in private rooms, the silence from Tesco is deafening.

“As phones are seized, emails trawled and buyers interrogated in private rooms, the silence from Tesco is deafening”

Of course, there are still plenty of commercial directors around. It even won The Grocer 33 service and availability award this week. And you can see from our Promo Dynamic that Tesco is still trading hard, running more promotions than ever in the past month. What’s missing is not action but strategic direction. Tesco needs to be on its game in the run-up to Christmas. It needs to be aggressive. That’s not easy in the current circumstances. It might not be for some time. The leopard can’t change its spots, but it can disappear into the forest, and hide.

The vacuum is not limited to Tesco, however. A collective panic is gripping the market that’s resulting in either strange decisions or an inability to make decisions at all.

And the sense of void is every bit as palpable at Sainsbury’s. As I noted last week, it failed to make an appearance at the IGD Convention. Now, after watering down its Brand Match at the start of October, it this week announced to customers (but not the media), its decision to halve the points giveaway on its Nectar loyalty card. And for added embarrassment it came last in this week’s Grocer 33 - with a basket £11.90 more expensive than Asda’s - yet its Brand Match scheme somehow failed to offer our shopper a money-back voucher.

One wonders if these announcements are early indicators of a new strategic masterplan. Sainsbury’s CEO Mike Coupe has promised to provide the City with a “detailed strategic update” on 12 November - a phrase that in itself spooked the City with its portentousness. In the meantime, the silence is unbearable.