Bottom Line: An orderly handover but uneasy lies any head wearing this crown

Marc Sidwell
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LONG live the new king. Sainsbury’s emphasis is firmly on continuity as it announces its new boss. The choice of commercial director Mike Coupe is the antithesis of a palace coup – every inch a loyal insider, Coupe is closely tied to King’s strategic vision, as demonstrated by his involvement in recent successes like Brand Match.

As a result, the market may have dipped Sainsbury’s shares to mark the exit of one of the best-known leaders in retail, but they didn’t stay at half-mast for long, recovering over half of the five per cent fall by the end of the day.

More of the same isn’t going to work forever for Coupe, however. Current showboating claims that its own-brand products beat arch-rival Tesco’s when it comes to ethical credentials are all very well. It builds on the way Sainsbury survived last year’s horsemeat scandal with its reputation intact, thanks in part to a decade-long commitment to DNA testing.

But for a supermarket that did well to maintain its market share over Christmas, the real battle ahead will be continuing to do so in the face of the public’s growing infatuation with discount retailers – visible in the storming yuletide performance from Aldi and Lidl – and the strength of higher-end grocers Waitrose, Ocado and M&S. The mid-market isn’t a place to try resting on laurels right now.

Coupe must be hoping King doesn’t add to the challenge by ousting Marc Bolland at M&S once his 12-month non-compete clause expires. But the drumbeat of grim news from the non-food part of that business is surely enough to warn King, who was head of food at M&S until 2004, of following this orderly handover with a risky usurpation.

PROFILE: Mike Coupe

MIKE Coupe has long been considered a key candidate to succeed Justin King when the day came. An all-rounder, there is not one patch of the supermarket sector – whether at Sainsbury’s, Asda, Tesco or Iceland – that Coup has not tried his hand at.

Like King, he is a 10-year Sainsbury’s veteran, and has worked closely with the outgoing boss to build the group’s online and convenience business and also overseeing the supply chain and marketing operations.

He has also worked closely with King for 17 of the last 20 years beginning at Asda, where Coupe was at one time King’s boss. He is credited for launching Sainsbury’s Brand Match campaign and its ongoing spat with Tesco over its “misleading” Price Promise, which it claims doesn’t use ethical production standards is also an issue close to Coupe’s heart.

The 53 year-old began his career at Unilever before moving to Tesco in 1985. In 1993 he moved to Asda, becoming trading director before joining the Big Food Group in 2011 where he was head of Iceland’s stores. He joined Sainsbury’s in 2004.

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