Outgoing Sainsbury's boss Justin King has capped his decade in charge of the supermarket by announcing a ninth successive year of annual profits growth, but warned of tough times ahead.
Underlying profits before tax rose 5.3% to £798m in the year to March 15, but like-for-like sales for the period were almost flat, edging up 0.2%.
Mr King, who will hand over the reins of the grocer to commercial director Mike Coupe in July after 10 years in charge, said a focus on quality, affordable own-brand products had helped Sainsbury's succeed in a tough retail environment.
But he warned: "While the general economic outlook is showing some signs of improvement, conditions in the food retail sector are likely to remain challenging for the foreseeable future as customers continue to spend cautiously."
Sainsbury's says it has immediately withdrawn 500g bags of SO Organic sultanas from its shelves after "low levels of salmonella were found during routine testing".
Food safety is our top priority so we immediately took this product off display and, as a precautionary measure, we are asking customers who have bought these sultanas to return them to their nearest Sainsbury’s store where they will receive a full refund.
We apologise to customers for any concern and inconvenience this causes.”
Sainsbury's is withdrawing SO Organic Sultanas as a precaution after routine testing found salmonella.
The recall applies to 500g bags, according to the Food Standards Agency.
Advice on the FSA website reads: "If you have bought the above product, do not eat it. Instead, return it to the store where you bought it for a full refund.
"No other Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Ltd products are known to be affected."
Although usually associated with meat, seafood and eggs, salmonella can also be found in fruit and veg that has been washed in dirty water.
Supermarket Sainsbury's has warned the market is growing at its slowest pace for nearly a decade as it broke a nine-year run of underlying sales growth.
The group revealed that like-for-like sales excluding fuel slumped 3.1% in the 10 weeks to March 15, marking a sharp reversal of recent fortunes and the first fall after 36 consecutive quarters of rising sales in a row.
Outgoing boss Justin King said the group came up against tough comparatives from a year earlier when it outperformed many rivals amid the horsemeat scandal and benefited from the timing of Mother's Day and Easter trade.
But he stressed that the market was facing tough conditions in the latest downbeat trading statement from one of the "big four" players as cost-conscious consumers increasingly turn to discounters such as Aldi and Lidl.
He said: "The market is now growing at its slowest rate since 2005, with falling food inflation in particular benefiting customers."
He added: "Although some economic indicators are showing an improvement in the health of the economy, we expect the outlook for customers to continue to be challenging for the coming year."
Sainsbury's has announced like-for-like sales are down 3.8% (down 3.1% excluding fuel) for the fourth quarter. Total sales for the same quarter were down 1.5% (down 1% excluding fuel).
The outgoing Chief Executive of Sainsbury's, Justin King, has warned an independent Scotland could face much higher food costs.
Speaking in the Financial Times (£) he said:
“Once it is a separate country, we and other retailers will take a view of what the cost structure is of that industry, and of course the revenue structure too. If you were to strike that today, there is no doubt Scotland is a more costly country [in which] to run a grocery retail business.”
In the same article John Fingleton, former chair of the Irish Competition Authority and chief executive of the UK’s Office of Fair Trading said:
“Scotland is very sparsely populated and retailers carry that extra distribution cost out of the centre.
"If those costs are isolated to Scotland only, it will just push up the prices in Scotland and lower prices in England. All of the retail sectors where in-time distribution matters [will be looking at this].”
Justin King is one of the most respected retail figures in the UK, yet I suspect that many of the 18.5 million shoppers that use the stores have no idea who he is.
Unlike brands such as Virgin and Ryanair, the boss has not been used in television advertising. Yet the ultimate manager is vital - Sainsbury's says it's aim is to be the most trusted supermarket.
Trust takes constancy of leadership and direction - chopping and changing is soon seen in the sales isles. Mr King's last job at Sainsbury's will be one of his most important - creating a smooth handover.
Sainsbury's chief executive Justin King is to step down in July, the supermarket announced today.
Speculation surrounding Mr King's departure suggests he is set to take over from Bernie Eccleston as the next boss of Formula One.