Sainsbury’s is looking to forge closer relationships with its suppliers in South Africa by basing a member of its technical team permanently there.

The supermarket said South Africa was an important source of produce, and it wanted to have someone on the ground to deal with the technical aspects of the job. “It’s also about improving relationships with our South African grower base by providing a direct contact to liaise with,” a spokeswoman added.

Sainsbury’s would not be drawn on who would be moving out to South Africa or when, but it is understood the move is imminent.

Sainsbury’s decision to create a local position in South Africa has prompted speculation the retailer could be flirting with direct sourcing and following in the footsteps of Tesco and Asda by establishing a “local hub”, but the spokeswoman insisted it was “business as usual” for the retailer’s sourcing strategy. “This isn’t a hub,” she added.

Sainsbury’s is a relative latecomer to moving staff to South Africa - the other major multiples all already have staff on the ground.