LEADER: Time for Tesco to eat a bit of humble pie?

Britain is developing an increasingly polarised love-hate relationship with its biggest retailer.

Danny Rogers, Editor, <em>PRWeek</em>
Danny Rogers, Editor, PRWeek

On the one hand, Tesco regularly wins prestigious plaudits. It was recently the highest-ranking British firm in Fortune magazine's 'world's most admired companies' in 2008. And it was runner-up in the latest 'Britain's most admired companies' list compiled by PRWeek sister title Management Today, a title it had won the year before.

And yet Tesco is currently at war with arguably Britain's best quality newspaper, The Guardian, which has made a series of allegations about 'an elaborate tax avoidance scheme'.

Meanwhile, the current issue of satirical journal Private Eye has weighed in with a second successive story on Tesco's alleged corporation tax avoidance. Tesco vehemently denies such allegations and is suing The Guardian.

Furthermore, Tesco has recently come under attack for its employment practices in the United States, which has caused waves this side of the Atlantic (News).

In 'ethical' surveys, Tesco often appears in lists of both the top performers and the worst performers. Many consumers love it because it provides them with price-competitive and convenient shopping. Others despise its dominance of the market, its hard negotiations with small suppliers and its perceived 'land-grabbing' practices.

The City loves Tesco. With 2,000 stores in the UK and sales of a staggering £37bn, it is viewed as the bellwether stock for the retail sector. And this is what ultimately props up its reputation. Why would public opinion ever really build against such a great British success story?

This week Tesco shares fell slightly after it announced sales growth had slowed in the UK. But we are still talking about a 3.5 per cent like-for-like increase. Many retailers on the beleaguered British high street would die for such figures.

As a result, its much-lauded boss Sir Terry Leahy remains understandably bullish. But as the bull market itself fades, is it time for Tesco to become that bit more humble and conciliatory?

Email: danny.rogers@haymarket.com

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