Morrisons founder and grocery retailer legend Sir Ken Morrison has passed away aged 85.

The retailer said it has been informed of the sad news by Sir Ken’s family this morning.

Sir Ken will be greatly missed by many thousands of his current and former colleagues, a large number of whom became close personal friends over the years.”

Sir Ken ran the business for more than half a century and was responsible for transforming Morrisons from a small family business into the UK’s fourth largest food retailer.

He has been life president of the retailer since his retirement in 2008. At that time Morrisons had 375 stores, serving over nine million customers a week.

Morrisons said: “Sir Ken will be greatly missed by many thousands of his current and former colleagues, a large number of whom became close personal friends over the years.”

Chairman Andrew Higginson said: “I know that I speak for the whole company when I say how profoundly sad we were to hear of Sir Ken’s death. He was an inspirational leader and the driving force behind Morrisons for over half a century. Although he retired several years ago, his legacy is evident every day and in every aspect of our business.

“Taking Morrisons from a small Bradford-based family business to a major UK grocery retailing chain is an outstanding achievement in the history of UK business. On a personal level, Ken was an enormous help to me as we made some significant changes to set the business on a new course; his knowledge of retail and his strategic insights have remained as relevant and intuitive as they were when he first built the business.

“Ken will be remembered by us all for his leadership, his passion for retailing and for his great love of Morrisons. To honour his memory in the most appropriate way we can, we will continue to develop the company that he built and loved.

“We will miss his friendship and his wise counsel very deeply, and our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time.”

Yorkshire born and bred

The archetypal gruff Yorkshireman, Sir Ken grew the business from the market stall that had been set up by his father. His biggest move was the £3bn acquisition of larger rival Safeway in 2004. The deal proved a bumpy ride, which saw Morrisons slip to its first-ever loss in 2005. There was also a storm of negative coverage in the press suggesting that the northern retailer did not understand its new southern customers. However there is little doubt that the deal made Morrisons a much bigger player than it would have been through organic growth and prevented it from becoming a takeover target.

Despite his retirement, Sir Ken remained an influential figure within the business and famously proved a thorn in the side of subsequent chief executives.

He reserved his harshest criticism for previous boss Dalton Philips, whom he accused of turning away from Morrisons’ core customers.

He launched his most stinging attack at the fractious agm in 2014. He said: “Since retiring I’ve decided to fatten cattle. I have something like 1,000 bullocks and having listened to your presentation, Dalton… you’ve got a lot more bullshit than I have.”

Sir Ken was known to be a staunch supporter of current CEO David Potts.

IGD chief executive Joanne Denney-Finch said: ““It was with great sadness we heard of the passing of Sir Ken Morrison. Hugely charismatic, he was a real leader and a true, genuine retailer to the core.

While always a tough negotiator, he was incredibly customer and people-focussed and the industry legacy from the great strides he made for retail during his tenure are unquestionable.”

Click here to see how leading figures from the world of grocery retail have paid tribute to Sir Ken