75% of sales are made in supermarkets and superstores owned by large multiple supermarket chains, with the remainder consisting of sales at small convenience and traditional retail stores accounting for a decreasing 7% of total sales (Defra, 2006, p. 1-2).
Amongst the latter are stores that stock a range of specialist products such as newsagents selling confectionary, tobacco, and newspapers, specialist grocers, food specialists such as chain stores of bakers, butchers, and health food shops, and independent specialist retailers.
The industry captures 13.1% of total household expenditures, which is expected to increase as these giants widen their business to include non-traditional products and services such as banking, health care, and mobile phones. Some 1.2 million people, 5% of UK's workforce, are employed in over 102,000 stores all over the nation (Defra, 2006, p. 3).
The size, visibility, and influence of grocery retailers have made them the focus of much attention and controversy. Their economic power, key industry trends and characteristics, and the nature of competition amongst the different grocery retailers have profound economic, social, and environmental impact on the UK.
This is why the sector is highly regulated by the UK government and, more often than not, is the target of civil society groups that want their say in the pricing and the sourcing of goods and services, the location of shops, the employment opportunities, their accessibility to disadvantaged social groups, and the health and safety standards of what they sell, amongst many other things.
The industry is dominated by the so-called Top Four: Tesco, Asda-WalMart, Sainsbury's, and Morrisons, all of which are publicly-listed UK companies that grew organically at a steady rate in the last three decades.
Tesco has the largest market share at 33%, followed by Sainsbury's and Asda, acquired by US-based Wal-Mart in 1999, each with around 16%, and Morrisons, which acquired Safeway in 2003, with 11%.
The remainder of the market is distributed amongst smaller competitors such as Somerfield, Waitrose, other Multiples, Co-ops, and independent retailers. Profit margins are thin and range between 2% and 6%. Thus, profits are determined mainly by sales volume (Defra, 2006, p. 7-8).
Table 1 summarises the Top Four's management and financial performance.
Part Two: Financial Management at Tesco and Sainsbury's
Tesco is currently the largest grocery retailer in the UK and was founded in 1927. J. Sainsbury plc owns Sainsbury's Supermarkets (hereafter Sainsbury's), currently the UK's third largest retailer, and was founded in 1869.
Sainsbury's was the nation's biggest supermarket and undisputed market