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A History of Innovation

A history of innovation


When John James and Mary Ann Sainsbury opened their first shop at 173 Drury Lane, London, few people could afford pure food, and the Sainsbury’s shop became one of the first places the average housewife could buy top quality butter, milk and eggs.


Sainsbury’s new Croydon store opened with what was then a dazzling array of branded cheeses, hams and cooked meats for sale – a far wider choice of fresh provisions than rival stores could offer.


Red Label tea was launched – the oldest Sainsbury-brand product on sale today. It took its name from the scarlet seals on the original packets and was sold hygienically pre-packed net weight, when most retailers were selling goods gross – including the weight of the packaging. Red Label, Blue Label and Green Label were launched at opening of the Ealing branch in March 1903.


Off-the job training was introduced at a purpose-built school in Sainsbury’s headquarters in Blackfriars to ensure that women recruited at speed to fill the jobs of men fighting in the First World War were equipped to deliver great service. After the war, the training school became so highly regarded other retailers advertised for Sainsbury-trained personnel.


When food rationing was introduced during the Second World War, Sainsbury’s led the way in ensuring the fair distribution of goods in short supply. Sainsbury’s branch communication system delivered such great service that the Government’s local food offices came to rely on it for information.


Sainsbury’s first self-service store, at 9-11 London Road, Croydon, offered mind-boggling choice and convenience to shoppers who’d got used to chronic food shortages and long queues. The shop was soon regarded as a model for the supermarket industry, heralding a revolution in postwar shopping standards.


Sainsbury’s was the first food retailer to enter the computer age with the installation of an EMIDEC1100 computer to handle stock control and ordering. Despite being much less powerful than a modern laptop, the giant machine had to be winched into place by a crane.


Experiments with computer checkouts led directly to the introduction of scanning in 1979, revolutionising the supermarket front end in the 1980s. Information on sales patterns also allowed Sainsbury’s to offer more choice in key areas and ensure products were always available.


Sainsbury's introduces nutritional labelling on Vitapint low fat milk.


Sainsbury’s was the first supermarket to offer goods for sale on the Internet through its Wine Direct Service, offering more of the great personal service Sainsbury’s has been famous for since 1869.


Sainsbury's becomes first major retailer to develop a 'free from' category, offering customers with allergies and intolerances the biggest range of products.


First retailer to introduce traffic light nutritional labelling and campaigns for transparency on front of packs (JS Journal - SA/SC/JSJ/59/9, page 3).


Sainsbury's becomes first retailer to remove all black plastic from chilled ready meals.