Dalton Philips is leaving Morrisons earlier than planned

What next for the struggling supermarket?

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 25 Feb 2015

And so it turns out yesterday's reports that Morrisons will be ditching the 'misting' machines - the ones that cover its fruit and veg sections with a layer of fog - were a sign of things to come. Today the supermarket announced that chief executive Dalton Philips will leave earlier than planned - this Monday February 16 to be precise.

Philips' departure was announced last month after yet another round of disappointing results, but he was scheduled to stay on while the search for a replacement was carried out. For now the business will effectively be helmed by its chairman, Andy Higginson, and finance director Trevor Strain.

The misting machines have become a much-derided symbol of Philips' supposed determination to move Morrisons upmarket – although that's something he's denied. To be fair to Philips, many of the changes he has made since landing the job in 2009 have taken it in the right direction, but it's all come to appear too little, too late.

Morrisons' online offering was only launched at the start of last year through its partnership with Ocado, and it seems hard to believe it only introduced a customer discount card in October – something Tesco and Sainsbury's have been offering since the 90s. Its expansion into smaller 'M local' format stores, increasingly necessary as shopping habits have changed, has also been behind the game.

But surely his worst moment at the grocer was last summer's AGM, when he received a particularly savage dressing down from Ken Morrison, long-time CEO of the business and son of its late founder, William. 'When I left work and started working as a hobby, I chose to raise cattle,' Morrison told Philips. 'I have something like 1,000 bullocks and, having listened to your presentation, Dalton, you've got a lot more bullshit than me.' 

'The results were described by the chairman and chief executive as 'disappointing'. I personally thought they were disastrous,' he continued. 'I warned in 2009 and 2012 that changes being implemented by directors would seriously damage the business and I'm extremely sorry to admit that my comments, whilst unwelcome, were absolutely right and today we have seen the consequences.'

It's not hard to imagine that Morrison is pleased about Philips' departure, but there's no clear sign of where the supermarket is heading next. Yesterday's supermarkets data from Kantar Worldpanel was relatively positive for Morrisons - a 0.4% year-on-year decline is an improvement on previous periods and much better than Asda's 1.7%. But whoever the supermarket eventually finds to replace Philips, they have a tough time ahead.

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