Sainsbury’s rethinks PA as criticism intensifies

Ailing supermarket chain Sainsbury’s is staging a review of its public affairs account, one of the widest-ranging and most coveted commercial lobbying briefs in the industry.

The review threatens to end Lexington Communications’ four-year hold on the business in the UK. Sainsbury’s PA contract in Brussels, handled by Fleishman-Hillard Public Affairs, is also part of the review.

A significant chunk of the brief is expected to focus on Sainsbury’s treatment of its suppliers and on its strategy of acquiring convenience stores in urban areas – rebranded as Sainsbury’s Local – which critics say is destroying local communities.

The Office of Fair Trading is reviewing the code of practice that is supposed to ensure supermarkets deal fairly with suppliers. Sainsbury’s has to handle a plethora of food safety and labelling regulations that emanate from the EU.

The brief is also expected to involve communication of the firm’s efforts to act responsibly on farming methods and the environment.

Sainsbury’s head of public affairs Erica Zimmer said: ‘We are repitching for public affairs support in London and Brussels, because it’s normal good practice to do this from time to time. The incumbent firms are being given the opportunity to submit proposals, as well as a number of other firms.’

Sainsbury’s reported its first pre-tax loss, £39m, for the six months to 9 October 2004. It lost its position as second-largest supermarket by share to Asda in 2003.

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