Sainsbury’s shareholders scold boss Mike Coupe over failed Asda merger

Shareholders have scolded Sainsbury’s boss Mike Coupe over his bumper £3.9 million pay deal, in the retailer’s first fraught general meeting since the collapse of its merger with Asda.

The failed merger was described as a “complete fiasco” by frustrated shareholders who have seen the supermarket group’s share price fall by 38% in the last 12 months.

Despite facing ire from some shareholders over the pay deal, proxy votes showed that the firm’s remuneration policy was backed with more than 90% of shareholder support.

Sainsbury’s board of directors handed the chief executive, who has led the firm since 2014, the £3.9 million annual pay packet, up £251,000 on the previous year, despite its shares hitting an almost-30 year low.

Sainsbury’s staff contracts
Sainsbury’s chief executive Mike Coupe (Sainsbury’s/PA)

One angered investor, John Farmer, lambasted Sainsbury’s “useless” bosses for receiving large pay packets despite the merger failure, calling for a “resumption of competence”.

The meeting took place just months after the competition watchdog, the CMA, blocked Sainsbury’s from joining forces with fellow Big Four supermarket Asda.

Another shareholder called on new chairman Martin Scicluna to axe Mr Coupe, for delivering a “blunderingly poor performance”.

Mr Scicluna, who joined Sainsbury’s earlier this year, said he is not shopping around for a new chief executive officer, describing Mr Coupe as a leader with “great values and great integrity”.

Prior to the annual meeting shareholder advisory groups expressed concerns over bonuses, especially with the falling share price.

Advisory body Glass Lewis said: “The committee have failed to outline the impact, if any, of the failed deal on the bonus outcomes of the executives, particularly in light of share price performance as a direct result.”

The board also fierce criticism over pricing from another shareholder, who said that, despite working at Sainsbury’s for 25 years, she now buys groceries at Aldi because they are “more affordable”.

In response, Mr Coupe said the company has lowered prices in the past eight weeks, reducing prices on more than 1,000 food and grocery items, to win over shoppers amid intense pressure from fast-growing German discount rivals Aldi and Lidl.

During the meeting, Mr Coupe reiterated his calls to government to provide certainty of the Brexit, describing the current October deadline as “as bad as it gets” due to the proximity to Christmas.

He joined other supermarket chiefs, including Asda’s Roger Burnley and Tesco’s Dave Lewis, in warning that a hard Brexit at this time could impact customers’ Christmas celebrations.

On Wednesday, Sainsbury’s revealed that its sales continued to tumble during the first four months of the year.

The retailer saw like-for-like sales decline by 1.6% in the 16 weeks to June 29, as its decline accelerated from 0.9% in the previous quarter.

Total retail sales excluding fuel fell by 1.2% during the period, as the company said it was impacted by a “tough retail environment”.

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