Richard Jones, the executive credited with driving an aggressive expansion into clothing at UK supermarket group Sainsbury's, has resigned to take a top post at arch rival Tesco it emerged today (24 June).

Jones has been head of non-food and general merchandise at Sainsbury's, the UK's third largest supermarket group, since January 2007.

Prior to that he was responsible for the launch of its Tu clothing line in 2004, helping to grow the brand to annual sales of GBP300m in 262 stores across the UK - and positioning Sainsbury's as the eleventh largest UK clothing retailer by volume.

A spokesperson for Tesco told just-style Jones will work on non-food sourcing and range development across the group.

"There is no specific job title as yet," the spokesperson said, "and we cannot confirm exactly when he will be starting, but Richard is of course a very talented and senior individual and we look forward to benefiting from his expertise."

It is thought he will work alongside Terry Green, the former chief executive of Debenhams and Allders, who is Tesco's head of UK clothing.

It is not known how Jones' departure will affect Sainsbury's, which has made no secret of its plans to grow its non-food sales - which include clothes, household goods, electrical products and music - over the next three years.

Last May the retailer said it wants to increase sales by GBP3.5bn by March 2010, with around one-third of this growth coming from its non-food lines. Non-food currently accounts for 15% of turnover.

"This happens from time to time and we are in an industry where people tend to move around," a spokesperson for Sainsbury's told just-style.
"Our strategy for non-food is in place and we are well down the track in rolling out those plans. We have a great non-food senior team in place with key hires from major competitors in recent months."

Clothing is a key part of the non-food retail battleground, with more and more shoppers popping a couple of shirts or a skirt into their trolleys alongside grocery staples like butter, milk and breakfast cereal.

Recent research from Verdict Consulting suggests supermarkets now command an 11% share of the non-food sector - and their revenues in this area could reach GBP24.4bn by 2012, up 24% on current figures.

But while Sainsbury's Tu clothing brand has gone from strength to strength, Tesco's clothing offer is looking slightly fragile.

In May, Sainsbury's unveiled plans to invest GBP15m in a new website to sell its clothing and other non-food items which will go live next year.

To support the non-food rollout it has also recruited 150 staff for its general merchandise operation in Coventry, covering roles such as product design, buying and merchandising.

And earlier this month, the retailer said non-food sales continued to outpace its overall first quarter growth as expanded ranges were introduced into new retail space and online sales rose 40%.

In contrast, however, while Tesco's annual sales outdid the market with a 6% rise, this lagged well behind the overall non-food revenue hike of 12%.

The company also recently halted its trial of online clothing sales - described by Tesco as "always part of the plan," but viewed by many in the industry as an admission that all was not well on the e-commerce side.

Earlier this month the retailer reported a slowdown in the rate of its non-food growth in the first quarter, blaming cautious consumer spending during recent months.

By Leonie Barrie.