Case Studies

What Morrisons Can Teach Us About Competing With CSR

5 months ago


What Morrisons Can Teach Us About Competing With CSR

For about a month now I’ve thought about writing a post on Morrisons. However, every time I started planning one, they would go and announce another CSR initiative or project that was just as ‘post-worthy’.

Of course, when it comes to looking at responsible business practices, this is a very nice problem to have, but it left me wondering which specific activity I should write about.

So, with so many ideas at my disposal, it made sense to rope them all into one.

Morrisons CSR | Jason Wicks

Morrisons: the story so far

In the UK, Morrisons are one of the ‘top 4’ supermarket chains.

Now, that’s a pretty impressive achievement, but Morrisons have almost exclusively held the number 4 spot for a number of years now, some way adrift from Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda.

What’s more, each of those top 4 chains have suffered in recent years, as low cost alternatives like Lidl and Aldi have proved incredibly popular.

In short, that’s left Morrisons firmly on a market share of 10.5%, with no clear and obvious method of ever challenging Tesco’s 27.6% domination.

So, what’s the plan? What can Morrisons do to compete in this incredibly fierce marketplace?

Competing with CSR

In my view, the answer is CSR.

Granted, I don’t know for sure if Morrisons have consciously decided to use CSR to gain competitive advantage, but I think they’re well on their way to doing it.

In the recent weeks and months, Morrisons have launched a number of projects and aims, all of which have potential to raise them above the competition.

For any of you that have missed their announcements, here’s an overview of their recent CSR activity:

  1. Brought back paper bags for loose fruit and veg instead of plastic.
  2. Announced the trial of a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles.
  3. Expanded their ‘wonky’ fruit and veg range, even creating a whole tv advert around it.
  4. Introduced a ‘quieter hour’ each week for shoppers with autism.

Not bad at all.

Morrisons Paper Bags Not Plastic | Jason Wicks

Can it work?

Say what you want, but for me, this all comes across like a very deliberate strategy. A deliberate attempt to stand out as the most responsible UK supermarket.

If i’m right and that is the case, the obvious question is simply, can it work? Have Morrisons finally found the solution that can launch them into the glamorous medal positions within the industry?

I personally think the answer is yes. Here’s why:

1. They’re committing

A huge part of CSR is commitment, there’s no two ways about it. Fortunately for Morrisons, they’re ticking all the right boxes. They’ve signed up to WRAP’s UK plastic pact, and have made some pretty bold pledges for 2025. On top of that, announcing something as bold as a deposit return scheme takes some guts, and customers will naturally ‘buy in’ to Morrisons’ core values.

But it’s not just about the projects they’ve launched. As I mentioned, they’ve dedicated a whole TV advert to their ‘wonky’ fruit and veg range. In my experience, caring about an issue and using marketing resources to highlight it are two very different things. It’s great that Morrisons see the value in spreading this message.

2. They’re strategic 

As I feel like I say quite a lot, CSR must be strategic, and Morrisons certainly have their head screwed on.

Their projects and initiatives are targeted around key focus areas, with their top three priorities being farming conditions, plastic and food waste. 

These are exactly the sorts of issues that they should be tackling, as they’re in the best position to do something about them.

However, it’s not just the strategy that’s impressed me, but their implementation of it. They haven’t just launched a token project to tick the box next to each focus area, they’ve gone further. They’re looking at the bigger picture when it comes to problems, and doing as much as they can to change things for the better. It’s exactly how you should implement CSR.

Morrisons Wonky Fruit and Veg | Jason Wicks

Related: The simple venn diagram explaining great CSR strategy.

The future

So far, things are looking very positive for Morrisons.

Just recently, it was announced that they’re the fasted growing supermarket of the so called ‘big four’, with their ‘wonky’ fruit and veg boosting sales massively. 

Sure, they have a long way to go, but they’re almost certainly heading in the right direction, and already enjoying better financial performance than their competitors.

However, I think it’s also necessary to look at where Morrisons can improve. If they really want to compete of CSR, like I think they do, there are two clear areas where they can maximise their success.

1. Rebrand their overarching CSR ambition

The umbrella ‘name’ for Morrisons’ CSR is ‘listening and responding’. While I can see where they’ve got it from, it’s a bit weak from a CSR perspective. Look at ‘Plan A’ by M&S, the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, or the Toyota Environmental Challenge 2050. All of these initiatives basically scream ambition.

‘Listening and responding’, does not.

Just by presenting it differently, I think Morrisons’ strategy could be taken far more seriously. They have all the components in place, they just need a better way to glue them all together.

2. Communicate more effectively

I’ve spent plenty of time rambling on about the importance of communication.

Sadly, I feel it’s an area that Morrisons are undervaluing and underestimating. While they do have a very easy to use CSR ‘microsite‘, their default method of communication is their CSR report.

A CSR report. In 2018.

It’s just not quite good enough.

In today’s world, social media is naturally the way forward, and I had to do a fair bit of scrolling before I came across CSR content on their facebook page. When you consider the fact that M&S have just launched a sustainability/CSR podcast, Morrisons need to up their game if they want to compete.


Despite these improvement areas though, Morrisons are in a fantastic position.

As a consumer and interested individual, it’s refreshing to see a company viewing CSR as a competitive opportunity. After all, it’s only by more firms viewing it as such that societal change will be rapidly accelerated.

While naturally we must wait and see whether their strategy pays off, I’m sure I won’t be alone in cheering them on.

Hi! I’m an author and blogger within the fields of social impact and responsible business. I believe that businesses can be a force for good in the world, and this website contains my thoughts on how that can work.

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