It was 1869 when John James Sainsbury and his wife Mary Ann opened the first Sainsbury's store on London's Drury Lane. The business didn't take long to flourish, proving popular with locals due to the high quality yet affordable goods on offer.
By 1881, three more stores were opened to help cater for the growing demand. In 1882, they opened their first shop outside of London, in Croydon and it quickly became Sainsbury's flagship store.
John James and Mary Ann Sainsbury open Sainsbury's first dairy shop at 173 Drury Lane, London.1869
When John James and Mary Ann Sainsbury moved into Drury Lane in 1869 there were more than two hundred shops in the street, around a quarter of which sold food. When it first opened the shop only sold three items; milk, eggs and butter. Drury Lane was described by a journalist of the time as: ‘an honest, hardworking and thrifty thoroughfare... but between the churches of St Giles-in-the-Fields and St Clement Dane's an amazing amount of beggary, destitution, profligacy, vice and downright villainy hides its many-headed misery.’ 173 Drury Lane had five floors which included the shop, an attic and a basement where the food for the shop was stored. The Sainsbury family shared the living quarters with three other families. John James and Mary Ann Sainsbury aimed to have 'the best butter in London'. Rising standards of living in the capital meant that there was an increased demand for quality food. Milk consumption was on the increase due to the growing popularity and affordability of tea. The Sainsbury’s sold 'Railway Milk' which was supplied daily from the farms of Devon, Dorset and East Anglia by specialist milk trains. The Sainsburys' style of trading proved popular with customers and in 1873 they were able to open a second shop at 159 Queen's Crescent, Kentish Town.
As the First World War broke out in 1914, Sainsbury’s began actively recruiting for female colleagues to solve the colleague shortage. By 1918, Sainsbury’s employed 39 female branch managers. War raged on so the government was forced to introduce rationing on sugar in 1917. By 1918 this had expanded to butter, margarine and various other products.
It wasn’t until 1921 that food became free of restrictions and Sainsbury’s was once again able to drive the cost of goods down for customers throughout the 1920s and 1930s before war (and rationing) struck once again in 1939.
The British Shopping Revolution1940-1969
In 1950, Sainsbury’s opened their first self-service on London Road, Croydon. This meant the transition from stores whereby colleagues fetched all the items a customer needed, to the modern method we see in stores today of customers browsing aisles and selecting their own products.
As self-service stores became more common, Sainsbury’s was able to produce and sell more of its own-brand goods. In 1969, Sainsbury’s own-brand products accounted for over 50 per cent of its turnover.
Introduction of ‘Fair Shares’ scheme to ensure that non-rationed goods in short supply were distributed fairly.1940
Sainsbury's introduced a 'Fair Shares' scheme to ensure that goods in short supply - such as sausages, cake, meat pies, blancmanges and custard powder - were distributed evenly. Customers were allocated a number of points, according to the number of rationed goods for which they were registered. The scheme encouraged customers to register for all rationed goods at Sainsbury's. To promote the use of the points system a series of advertisements were created (by Francis Meynell who also produced the governments ‘Food facts’ advertisements), suggesting meal ideas using ‘points’ foods. The scheme was noted by the Ministry of Food. On 1 December 1941 the government introduced its own ‘points’ scheme covering a wide range of grocery lines.
9/11 London Road, Croydon branch converted to self-service shopping1950
Sainsbury’s was not the first shop to introduce the idea of self-service to the UK, but it became the first to specifically design shops to operate this way. A few retailers, notably the London Co-operative Society, had previously re-arranged fittings to provide a limited range of self-service groceries. In 1950, Alan Sainsbury ordered the complete refurbishment of the store at 9/11 London Road, Croydon, which had previously been used by John James as a model store for the suburbs when it was opened in 1882. With a floor area of 3,300 square feet, this was one of the few Sainsbury’s stores suitable for conversion to self-service. Post-war building controls were strict and the store was refurbished under one of 100 licenses granted by the Ministry of Food to companies who were prepared to experiment with self-service retailing. 9-11 London Road remained open to customers during the re-fit while a range of modern features were installed which would eventually become standard in all stores. The refurbished store opened on 26th June 1950. After years of shortages and queuing, customers welcomed the ability to make their own choice from a larger range of goods. Assistants were employed to help older customers adapt to the new style of shopping, but there were still a few who were less than impressed. One Croydon customer who was offered a wire basket by Alan Sainsbury threw it back at him in contempt!
Sainsbury's first TV advertisement, promoting frozen chicken as an inexpensive family meal.1958
Jim Woods, who was merchandising manager recalled that "We did the filming at the Putney branch, and every time we started recording, one of us had to dash outside to stop the traffic because of the noise. The actress who played the customer had to take her shoes off, because they made a noise on our mosaic floor, and I carved the chicken myself!"
EMIDEC1100 computer installed at Stamford House, making Sainsbury’s the first food retailer to computerise the distribution of goods to its stores.1961
The computer was so complex that it had been necessary to order it two years in advance - it took over the stock control of non-perishable lines, which had previously been performed by the mechanised Power Samas punched card system.
In was in this period that Sainsbury's established itself as a truly national retailer, first opening stores in Yorkshire and the north and then expanding to Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Sainsbury’s was floated on the stock exchange in 1973 and continued to innovate into the 80s and 90s, introducing carrier bags made from recycled material and was one of the first to sell Fairtrade products.
Re-building the Brand2000-2018
Sainsbury’s saw in the millennium with a total of 432 stores across the UK and more ways to make the shopping experience easier.
In 2004 Sainsbury’s began working with the Woodland Trust and has planted nearly two million trees since. A year later, Sainsbury’s were the first retailer to introduce traffic light nutritional labelling on products to give customers a better indication of the nutritional value.
By 2010, Sainsbury’s had opened the first of six food colleges – these have now trained 18,000 colleagues in traditional skills.
Sainsbury's becomes first major UK retailer to axe food multi-buys.2016
From July 2016 Sainsbury’s has fast-tracked its programme to remove multi-buy promotions on food whilst lowering regular prices on everyday items in response to positive feedback. The retailer has been gradually removing multi-buys from its stores over two years and has sped-up the project in recent months due to customer appetite for simpler, clearer prices. Careful management of household budgets, a growing awareness of the cost of food waste and more health-conscious living have also driven a trend away from multiple product purchasing towards more single item purchasing.
Sainsbury's becomes first retailer to trial Slow Shopping concept.2016
To help elderly customers and those with disabilities Sainsbury’s store in Gosforth, Newcastle-upon-Tyne has trialled a new concept called Slow Shopping. Slow Shopping is run at the store every Tuesday from 1-3pm. During this time people who want to use the service are greeted at the entrance to the store, where a Sainsbury’s colleague is on hand to assist customers with their shopping. Chairs are put out at the end of aisles to enable people who struggle to stand all the way round the shop to have a rest. The store also mans two help desks where they offer samples of favourite products such as fruit, ginger biscuits and Victoria sponge.