JD Sainsbury had been impressed by the huge success of French hypermarkets and in 1975, Sainsbury’s and British Home Stores (BhS) formed Savacentre as a jointly-owned subsidiary.
The development of hypermarkets in the UK was slow; strict planning regulations meant that all stores of more than 50,000 square feet required approval from the Department of the Environment. At the time Savacentre was formed there were only three other hypermarkets in the UK.
The new Savacentre hypermarkets offered the complete range of products sold by both Sainsbury’s and BhS, along with electrical goods like refrigerators, washing machines, audio and TV equipment.
The first Savacentre opened at Washington, Tyne and Wear, on 15th November 1977. The store featured delicatessen and fresh fish counters, an in-store bakery, a restaurant and 35,000 square feet devoted to textiles, electrical goods and hardware. The Washington Savacentre was also the first UK retail store to rely on a computer for all its management information.
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By March 1980, two more Savacentres had opened, at Hempstead and Basildon. The same year, JD Sainsbury reported to shareholders that “These [stores] have outstripped our most optimistic forecasts.”
The number of Savacentres grew slowly during the 1980s; it was not until October 1993 that the tenth Savacentre opened at Beckton in East London. In March 1989, Sainsbury’s bought out BhS’s 50 per cent share in the partnership and Savacentre became a wholly-owned subsidiary. BhS continued to supply Savacentre with textiles and other non-food lines, although these products were gradually phased out following the launch of Sainsbury’s ‘Lifestyle’ range of own brand clothing in 1991.