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.
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.
Staff training school established at Blackfriars1915
A training school was set up in Blackfriars in 1915, originally to train female employees in wartime. It proved so successful that other retailers began to advertise for ‘Sainsbury-trained men’. ‘Learners’ attended a fortnight’s course at the school, which included practical instruction on the art of testing eggs by candling, cutting bacon into 15 different thicknesses, balancing the scales and dividing butter from a block into half-pound packs using ‘The Sainsbury method of Wiring’. Training also included tours of the bacon stoves and the cooked meats factory, and lectures on the origins of products such as New Zealand lamb and Dutch butter. Following training, staff spent a day at a London branch before moving into their allocated branch. Every department had its particular skill which took months of practice to learn and progress was recorded on an ‘experience card’.
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.
Sainsbury’s halved paper labels on cans to save paper to help the war effort1944
Before the Second World War, butter and cheese were given two layers of wrapping by the counter hand but this was reduced to one under wartime restrictions. In a wartime bulletin of 1942, customers were advised to bring their own receptacles for food as they had done during the Great War: 'It may be suggested to customers that flour bags which can be washed and used again are better for this purpose than odd bits of paper, although an actual container is best of all' Paper and ink shortages also led to the use of less colourful 'half-labels' on many pre-packaged products. Sainsbury's early grocery packaging used various elaborate and colourful designs, but common styles and colours can be seen on some labels. By the 1940s, the importance of design to unify the company image was recognised. Alan Sainsbury wrote that: "Although the quality of the particular food... is what finally counts with the discerning housewife, it should be the aim of the progressive retailer to present his wares in the most attractive dress and, if he sells food, in the most hygienic manner." Improvements were also made to the quality of the packaging. In 1946, designs for Coffee Berries and Semolina packs were chosen for display in the Printing and Packaging Section of the "Britain Can Make It" Exhibition.
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!
An in-house designer, Leonard Beaumont is appointed to create a unified look and own brand product packaging suitable for self-service stores1950
Beaumont created simple, consistent designs which reflected the company's reputation for quality and cleanliness. He used only one typeface (Albertus), stylised graphics and muted colours to create a clean fresh image which echoed the design of the self-service shops.
Sainsbury's opens the largest self-service food store in Europe at Lewisham, selling bread and fresh produce for the first time.1955
The store had a sales area of 7,500 square feet and a glass-walled ventilated room for cutting and wrapping butter and other goods.
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.
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.1967
After the retirement of Leonard Beaumont in 1962, Peter Dixon set up Sainsbury's new Design Studio. He took Sainsbury's corporate image to a new level, using bold colours and geometric patterns to create an influential 'pop art' style.
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.
Sainsbury’s opens a ‘decimal’ shop in Croydon to introduce customers to decimal currency, a year before ‘D-Day’1970
The Decimal Shop provided a training for key branch staff to prepare them for the changeover in 1971. This changeover period was a difficult one for our customers and the training of branch staff in handling the new currency helped to iron out difficulties. Every branch had its own decimalisation officer who received training and experience at the Croydon shop.
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.