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Sainsbury can make more money by throwing away food

Letters, The Sunday Times, 26/7/09

On the very day (July 12) that your paper published its interview with Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King, (“Sainsbury’s chief wants some smarter shopping”) we were shopping in our local branch of the supermarket.

There was a big display of cakes and pastries that were about to pass their “display until” date when the store closed in 15 minutes and we asked the staff whether these would be marked down in price, which has been the usual practice, and generally results in the shelves being rapidly cleared.

We were shocked to be told it was now management policy to throw away these products “unless the lady from the local animal sanctuary calls to collect them” because the store could claim back the cost of unsold stock from the supplier and this was a more economically attractive option than selling them at clearance prices.

I would be interested to know where this new approach to inventory control fits into King’s reported plans to “reduce Sainsbury’s waste” and help “consumers to waste less food through smarter shopping and cooking”.

It seems to me that, while Sainsbury has found a way of improving its margins by transferring part of its risks to its suppliers, this strategy will simply mean that all the consumers of those products – whether they shop at the store group or elsewhere – will end up paying for Sainsbury’s savings because the suppliers will simply factor the need to reimburse the retailer into the price of their products.

What really grates, however, is the hypocrisy of King’s position when his company is throwing perfectly good food into a rubbish skip. I have no great objection to feeding the local wildlife, but surely it would be better to give this to customers or staff or some charity for disadvantaged people.

SM Sinclair
Surbiton, Surrey

Last Modified - 8th October 2009

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