Dave Lewis tesco

This week we publish our annual Power List. It’s a tortuous exercise, and every year I dread it. We risk causing mortal offence - sometimes without meaning to. And what is power anyway? The strength of a balance sheet? Market cap? You end up with a very dull list, which no one wants, and an asymmetrical one, as big local retailers can hold the winning hand in local negotiations with bigger multinationals (as Unilever learned in its Marmitegate spat).

I say ‘can’. And very often they ‘do’. Over the years the supermarket bosses have dominated this list as a rule. But as well as having a winning hand, you also need to play your cards right, and in recent times the hubris of the big four bosses - together with the actions of other clever, nimble people outside their ivory towers - has seen them fall from grace and rank. In our 2016 Power List, for example, only Dave Lewis scraped in our top five, as discounters, online retailers and scale-driven global suppliers dominated.

But the top five this year reflects the way the big four have fought back. Mike Coupe and David Potts are at four and five. And for the first time in six years - since 2011 - the boss of Tesco sits at the top of the list. So has normal service resumed? Not at all. As Aldi surged past the Co-op this week, CEO Matthew Barnes sits in second place. Meanwhile Asda’s Sean Clarke is in a lowly 14th, despite all his experience and the might of Walmart behind him. And with Waitrose this week announcing plans to close six stores, Rob Collins is only 22nd.

And it’s the same on the supplier side. Our list speaks to the concerns of major manufacturers about Brexit - another structural challenge - propelling those who can hedge (or have hedged) against its impact through exports or access to growth categories or channels, while the old guard - the Walkers, the Cokes, the Premiers, the Kraft-Heinz’s, the Mondelez mob - struggle as the natural order in fmcg is challenged by structural, behavioural and technological forces - forces they are often powerless to resist.

● Click on the link below to go to the full list

Power List 2017: 100 leaders, thinkers and agitators shaping the grocery industry