Outlook: New broom gives Safeway hope once more

COULD THERE be light at the end of the tunnel for Safeway after all? Admittedly, the situation continues to look dire. The shares have been heading steadily south for two years now. As number four in the market, with the Wal-Mart backed Asda and the mighty Tesco battling it out at the top for price advantage, and the threat of Internet shopping closing fast, things could hardly seem worse.

However, by sacking Colin Smith as chief executive and promoting the recently recruited Carlos Criado-Perez to the position, David Webster, the chairman, has at least recognised that if Safeway is ever going to turn the corner, there has to be a new broom. The same cannot be said of Sainsbury's, which has yet to grasp this nettle.

Mr Criado Perez seems in every respect an excellent appointment. His background gives him wideranging experience of food retailing in a number of different national markets, including a spell as head of international operations at Wal-Mart. As an outsider, free of the traditions and culture of British supermarket retailing, he may be able to bring the clarity of vision and purpose necessary to set the ship back on course. Certainly Safeway is not yet beyond redemption, and with so many other grocers all at sea in their approach, there's a huge soft underbelly in the market out there ready for the taking.