Lord Sainsbury

Sainsbury’s CEO Simon Roberts called Lord Sainsbury “a shopkeeper to his core and one of the great retailers of his time” 

One of the giants of the British supermarket trade, John Sainsbury, has died aged 94.

Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover presided over Sainsbury’s in its heyday. As chairman and CEO from 1969 to 1992, his flotation of the family business on the stock market in 1972 was, at the time, the largest in UK history, as he turned a mid-size regional chain into the UK’s biggest and most profitable retailer.

Sainsbury’s CEO Simon Roberts led tributes to Lord Sainsbury, who died last week. He was “a shopkeeper to his core and one of the great retailers of his time,” said Roberts. “He led Sainsbury’s through an unprecedented period of growth; he was a truly inspirational man.

“While he will be missed by many, his huge contribution to Sainsbury’s and the values he cared about and believed in so much will remain alive at the heart of our business.”

Roberts added: “All of us at Sainsbury’s are deeply saddened by the news that Lord Sainsbury has passed away. On behalf of Sainsbury’s colleagues past and present, I extend our heartfelt condolences to Lady Sainsbury and the rest of Lord John’s family.”

A host of former colleagues have also paid tribute to Lord Sainsbury, who was knighted in 1980 for services to the food retailing industry, made a life peer in 1989 and appointed as one of 24 Knights of the Garter in 1992, following his retirement that year.

Ex-CEO Justin King said: ”I truly believe no one has had a greater influence over the modern supermarket we know today than JD [John Davan]. The supermarket we shop in today was shaped by his leadership in a profound way.”


King also noted Sainsbury’s continued interest and involvement in the supermarket after his retirement. As life president he continued to accompany King on store visits twice a year.

“They were proper visits. We walked the whole store, aisle by aisle. He retained a passion for product and store standards. And on my own visits to stores – I visited stores pretty much every Friday – hardly a visit went by without a colleague telling me a JD story. Always at their heart was a man passionate about product and store standards and serving customers well.”

Ex-Booker CEO Charles Wilson also recalled “the privilege of accompanying Lord John on a store tour”.

“Despite the team working all night, Lord John spotted the one misfaced chicken at 50 yards distance. His attention to detail was superb.”

He added: “His standards, attention to detail and pride in his family business, enabled Lord John to marshal Sainsbury’s into one of the greatest retailers on the planet in the 1970s and 80s. His contribution to Sainsbury’s, retail and the UK was massive. A sad day for all in the grocery trade.”

Wilson also praised Lord Sainsbury’s work as a peer in the House of Lords. “Through considering legislation through the eyes of the consumer and retailer, he helped improve the lives of millions of people shopping and working in retail.”

Ewan Venters, the former Fortnum & Mason CEO, was one of many who used Twitter to remember Lord Sainsbury.

“My first job was a management trainee for Sainsbury’s in 1989. He was a real inspiration to me and many others,” he wrote.

Industry colleagues also expressed their admiration. Lucy Neville-Rolfe said she was inspired to join Tesco after seeing the “dynamic, decisive Lord John Sainsbury” in action.

“He built a great business, stopped needless licensing of food premises in 1989 and led the #Deregulation Task Forces. Inspired me to join Tesco!”

And Teresa Wickham, an adviser to Sainsbury’s on ESG issues from 2007-2013, recalled from her days at Safeway: ”We always admired the grip he had on the business and as a small company we looked up to them. We were quite happy to do a joint venture introducing the first GM Tomato Puree and felt if Sainsbury’s were happy so were we. We also did a British Baked bean with them.” 

An obituary of Lord Sainsbury will be published later this week. If you want to share anecdotes or pay tribute please comment here, let us know via @TheGrocer or email adam.leyland@thegrocer.co.uk