UK: EDITORIAL - SUPERSTORE BLUES.

UK: EDITORIAL - SUPERSTORE BLUES. - Managing change is concentrating the minds of those who labour in the industrial vineyards, and it is earning a lot of money for the gurus who think they know how to do it. No one doubts that change there has been and

Managing change is concentrating the minds of those who labour in the industrial vineyards, and it is earning a lot of money for the gurus who think they know how to do it. No one doubts that change there has been and that more there will be. The word itself still, perhaps, has more of the ominous than the challenging about it, accompanied as it tends to be by fewer jobs.

For the supermarket giants - Sainsbury, Tesco and Argyll - it has had a heartening ring. Their consumerist temples absorb an annual tribute of nearly £23 billion of the nation's grocery bill; change has meant sharpening their management skills, increasing their margins and developing apace. In a period of recession they seemed to be the untouchables, marching on unbowed. It seemed that nothing could mar their joy - but no longer.

Last month all three marched into the High Court having found, uncharacteristically, a common purpose: to block the opening by the US giant, Costco, of Britain's first warehouse club. They marched out again having lost the battle in what was their first sortie together. Togetherness has evaporated with the put-down. A week later, despite the fact that all three had been making reassuring noises about their ability to fend off, if not smother, usurpers, Sainsbury had launched a price war, indefinitely cutting the prices of 300 of its most popular own-brand labels, undoubtedly giving its erstwhile allies something not very pleasant to think about and causing major stress among the weaker chains.

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