Supermarket Morrisons has announced that chief executive Dalton Philips is to step down after five years at the helm of the struggling supermarket business.
Morrisons also announced it is planning to close 10 loss-making smaller stores, putting more than 400 jobs at risk.
The move was announced as the Bradford-based chain reported that like-for-like sales fell 3.1% in the six weeks to January 4.
Andrew Higginson, who is due to become chairman later this month, said the company’s board believed the push to return the business to growth was “best done under new leadership”.
Morrisons has reported a 3.1% drop in like-for-like sales for the festive period, adding that chief executive Dalton Philips is to step down by the time of the company’s annual results.
Mr Higginson said it was “time for a fresh pair of eyes” over the business, although he pointed out that the company’s Christmas performance was not a factor in the decision to change leadership.
Mr Philips said: “I’m very sad to be leaving but when a board wants to make a change you accept that and move on.”
With the retailer’s festive trading sales figures meeting City expectations, shares in Morrisons jumped 6% following the leadership change.
As part of a wider plan announced in March to invest £1 billion in price cuts over three years, initiatives from Mr Philips have included a new loyalty card scheme promising to match prices at discounters Aldi and Lidl.
There have been signs that the strategy is starting to pay off after closely watched data from Kantar Worldpanel pointed to an improved sales trend.
Morrisons added today that a key performance indicator measuring items per basket was down by 0.2% on a year earlier compared with 2.4% earlier in the financial year. The decline in the number of transactions was also reduced.
Joanne McGuinness, Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers ) National Officer, said: “This is devastating news for the staff in the 10 stores that Morrisons intends to close. We will now enter into full and meaningful consultation meetings on these proposals, where we will look closely at the company’s business case.
“Our priority is to maximise employment within Morrison’s, seek redeployment opportunities for members whose shop is closed and minimise compulsory redundancies. We will support, advise and represent our members throughout this period of uncertainty.”