Mark Casci: Who cares if Morrisons is putting the price of Marmite up? Its turnaround has been remarkable

Morrisons has jacked up the price of Marmite by 12.5%, weeks after a public spat between Tesco and Unilever
Morrisons has jacked up the price of Marmite by 12.5%, weeks after a public spat between Tesco and Unilever

If forecasts are correct Morrisons will this Thursday report its fourth consecutive quarter of like-for-like sales growth.

Analysts at HSBC are forecasting a 1.5 per cent rise in sales in the third quarter, slightly behind the two per cent seen in quarter two.



If the experts are correct it will mark a significant milestone in the turnaround plan spearheaded by chief executive David Potts and his team.

The improved performance has been driven by what Morrisons has always done best, namely its grocery offerings.

Make no mistake, when Mr Potts who took the helm last year following the removal of former boss Dalton Philips he was captaining a ship navigating some of the most treacherous waters it had ever seen.

Its founder Sir Ken Morrison, never one to pull his punches, eviscerated the board following a tempestuous board meeting and its former group property director Roger Owen called a “supertanker heading for an iceberg”.

However Mr Potts now increasingly looks to have turned the tanker around.

Among his successes this year was to ink a new deal with Ocado and sign a landmark agreement with online giant Amazon to supply fresh food to customers earlier this year.

So it must have been extraordinarily galling for the Bradford-based chain’s staff, from the chief executive’s office to the cashiers on the till, to see the company attract negative headlines over the weekend over, of all things, Marmite.

Some of the headlines were ridiculous. Yes, the grocer was increasing prices by 12.5 per cent. This move would increase the price of this love it or hate spread to whopping £2.64.

As I read the banner headlines I was compelled to ask a question you should never ask of any form of journalism; so what?

It would have been more informative to have placed this unavoidable rise in cost, brought about by Unilever I might add who is struggling with the collapse in Sterling’s value and has been stating for weeks it would need to raise prices.

For example the supermarket took steps this summer to cut the price of selected meats and poultry by 12 per cent.

I would never position myself as an expert in consumer trends but I am confident these are more hardy staples of the dinner table than a sandwich spread.

The Yorkshire Post also reported last week the firm was set to do a deal with farmers to support local food demand, simultaneously helping farmers and cutting food miles.

Marmite-gate may be an irritation but against the backdrop of the powerful headwinds Morrisons and all supermarkets are facing it is a drop in the ocean.

HSBC analyst David McCarthy, who has been crunching the numbers for Morrisons, took the step of applauded management for strengthening the balance sheet, which he said will help protect the grocer as price competition and costs - related to the weaker pound and national living wage - start to rise.

All of the so-called big four supermarkets - Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons - have been cutting prices in a bid to better compete with German upstarts Aldi and Lidl, who have eroded their market share.

And while the company still remains in a relatively weak strategic position amid its sector peers it is undeniable that the turnaround process has been one of the year’s remarkable success stories.

The rise of a few pence on a jar of sandwich spread should not be allowed to bring negative sentiment on this much-loved retail institution as it battles changing consumer trends and the march of the discounters.

With little to no clarity on substance or deliverability from Government on how it is to handle Brexit, it is incumbent on us as consumers and commentators to not be critical for the sake of it.

Such actions frankly, leave a very bitter taste in one’s mouth.