Grocery adjudicator bad for consumers, says King

Big multinational suppliers to the retail sector do not need the protection of a grocery adjudicator, according to Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King.

Speaking at the City Food Lecture last night, King said he would not welcome the arrival of an ombudsman into the sector, when asked the question from the floor.

He said: “Ombudsmen are for sectors where a monopoly situation exists and consumers need to be protected. Having an ombudsman to protect businesses to the detriment of consumers is back to front. Big multinational businesses do not need protection from retailers.

“The government is calling it an adjudicator rather than an ombudsman, and we will continue to fight our part on behalf of consumers.”

During the annual lecture, which is organised by the City of London’s food livery companies, King told the audience that he felt the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations were a better marketing opportunity for the food sector than the London Olympics, but he pointed out the sporting event was an opportunity for industry to celebrate a year of “Britishness”.

Defending the retail sector’s use of promotions, when asked what benefit they were to suppliers, King said they helped to drive volume, and said it was what consumers were looking for. “The nature of successful business is to respond to those demands,” he added. However, he admitted the mix of promotions was unlikely to remain, stating they were making the supply chain less efficient.

He spoke out against the idea that the high street was dead, but warned against taking a rose-tinted view of the past. “People don’t have the time to potter between the butcher, baker and grocer,” he told the audience and said we needed to brave enough to reshape the high street and not go back to a time that was only ever an option for the “well-off few”.

He said that large multiple chains could be as much a part of the community as smaller operators, and the industry needed to do more to get people to recognise the value of the sector.