Sainsbury’s new boss Roberts faces unexpected in-tray

LONDON (Reuters) – When Sainsbury’s (SBRY.L) new boss Simon Roberts hosts a virtual focus group with supermarket shoppers on his first day in charge on Monday, the conversation will be radically different from the one he might have imagined when he got the job.

FILE PHOTO: Simon Roberts, Retail and Operations Director of Sainsbury’s, poses for a portrait at the company headquarters in London, Britain, May 1, 2019. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

In late January, Britain’s second largest supermarket group by sales after Tesco (TSCO.L) announced retail and operations director Roberts would succeed Mike Coupe as chief executive after his six years in the job.

Then the biggest issues Roberts faced were honing a strategy for Sainsbury’s to prosper alone after its failure to combine with Asda, owned by Walmart (WMT.N), getting through Brexit and fending off competition from Amazon (AMZN.O) and German-owned discounters Aldi and Lidl.

Four months on, those problems have been dwarfed by the coronavirus crisis, which has fundamentally changed Britain’s retail outlook and raised the prospect of a severe global recession.

For Sainsbury’s, whose shares are down 16% so far in 2020, the pandemic has boosted grocery sales but hammered demand for fuel, general merchandise and clothing, pushed its bank into a likely annual loss and raised operating costs across the group.

Roberts, 49, takes office with the exact nature and duration of the financial impact of COVID-19, the disease caused by novel coronavirus, impossible to predict.

As he seeks to impose his authority, h

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