It's the ultimate compliment you can pay a supermarket. Make a very public play to buy it at a vastly inflated premium to the share price, then admit you plan to keep the CEO and carry on with the executive board's strategy.
In rejecting the overtures of a CVC-led consortium this spring, key shareholders exposed the limitations of the private equity model, while giving a triumphant endorsement to the Making Sainsbury's Great Again recovery plan. This was subsequently acknowledged by the continuing strength of the share price following the collapse of the deal.
But Sainsbury's didn't just win this award based on a quirk of its shareholder base. The work of its own-label team on the premium side was recognised by a Grocer Gold and, in positioning itself at the quality end of the market, it has fought the battle for supermarket supremacy on its own terms. As one judge notes: "The supermarket has driven the move towards organic, Fairtrade and higher quality foods and has shown it is possible to compete on more than just price. A few years ago, people were writing off the chain as a no-hoper, but it is now growing at a faster rate than Tesco and has just fought off a bid at a price many thought impossible."
With the basics of service and availability now right, the supermarket is certain to hit its three-year target for 2008, after better-than-expected results last month that saw profits up 42% to £380m.
A new three-year plan to achieve an extra £3.5bn sales by 2010 is under way that will see the opening of 100 new convenience stores and 30 new supermarkets, the extension and refurbishment of 50% of all stores, and a significant expansion of its non-food range.