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Years of history
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Humble Beginnings

1869-1899

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.

Fresh Challenges

1900-1939

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.

SA/EMP/1/14/2 - Staff experience card of Cyril Robert Croft
Staff training school established at Blackfriars Staff training school established at Blackfriars
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Good Fellowship Trust set up for staff in need by John James and John Benjamin Sainsbury Good Fellowship Trust set up for staff in need by John James and John Benjamin Sainsbury
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Sickness insurance and pensions scheme for staff were introduced Sickness insurance and pensions scheme for staff were introduced

The British Shopping Revolution

1940-1969

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.

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Introduction of ‘Fair Shares’ scheme to ensure that non-rationed goods in short supply were distributed fairly. Introduction of ‘Fair Shares’ scheme to ensure that non-rationed goods in short supply were distributed fairly.
SA/WAR/2/IMA/1/3 - Photograph of arrangement of Second World War products
Sainsbury’s halved paper labels on cans to save paper to help the war effort Sainsbury’s halved paper labels on cans to save paper to help the war effort
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9/11 London Road, Croydon branch converted to self-service shopping 9/11 London Road, Croydon branch converted to self-service shopping
SA/PKC/PRO/1/14/4/a4/1 - Photograph of Sainsbury's Ground White Pepper pot designed by Leonard Beaumont
An in-house designer, Leonard Beaumont is appointed to create a unified look and own brand product packaging suitable for self-service stores An in-house designer, Leonard Beaumont is appointed to create a unified look and own brand product packaging suitable for self-service stores
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Sainsbury's opens the largest self-service food store in Europe at Lewisham, selling bread and fresh produce for the first time. Sainsbury's opens the largest self-service food store in Europe at Lewisham, selling bread and fresh produce for the first time.
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EMIDEC1100 computer installed at Stamford House, making Sainsbury’s the first food retailer to computerise the distribution of goods to its stores. EMIDEC1100 computer installed at Stamford House, making Sainsbury’s the first food retailer to computerise the distribution of goods to its stores.
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Sainsbury’s Design Studio, led by Peter Dixon, wins Royal Society of Arts Presidential Award for Design Management, the first of its kind to be awarded in the supermarket industry. Sainsbury’s Design Studio, led by Peter Dixon, wins Royal Society of Arts Presidential Award for Design Management, the first of its kind to be awarded in the supermarket industry.

Nationwide expansion

1970-1999

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.

SA/BRA/5/9/8/1/1 - Photograph of store interior with decimalisation conversion table
Sainsbury’s opens a ‘decimal’ shop in Croydon to introduce customers to decimal currency, a year before ‘D-Day’ Sainsbury’s opens a ‘decimal’ shop in Croydon to introduce customers to decimal currency, a year before ‘D-Day’
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'Plessey' data capture ordering introduced. 'Plessey' data capture ordering introduced.
SA/BRA/4/3/5/1/8 - Slide photograph of computerised checkout 1979
Computer checkout experiments began at Broadfield, Crawley Computer checkout experiments began at Broadfield, Crawley
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Sainsbury’s becomes a founding partner of Fare Share community food donation programme Sainsbury’s becomes a founding partner of Fare Share community food donation programme

Re-building the Brand

2000-2018

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.

Introduction of ‘Freefrom’, the first supermarket range for allergy sufferers Introduction of ‘Freefrom’, the first supermarket range for allergy sufferers
Established 'You Can' employment programme in partnership with Remploy, Mencap and Job Centre Plus - 13,000 people employed as a result. Established 'You Can' employment programme in partnership with Remploy, Mencap and Job Centre Plus - 13,000 people employed as a result.
Achieved 100% diversion from landfill for operational waste Achieved 100% diversion from landfill for operational waste
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Launched grocery Click & Collect service in stores. Launched grocery Click & Collect service in stores.
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Announced £1m funding in fight against food waste. Announced £1m funding in fight against food waste.