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Fresh eggs being allocated to a customer in store, c.1940.

Getting Your Fair Share

The British government introduced rationing in the United Kingdom several times throughout the 20th century, when goods were in short supply. Undoubtedly the most well-known instance occurred during World War II, at a time when Sainsbury’s was making a name for ourselves as one of the finest food retailers in the country.


The first official food rationing during World War II came into force on 8th January, 1940. Initially, it was limited to just bacon, butter and sugar. As the war progressed, new ration schemes were quickly introduced to control the national consumption of meat, jam, tea, biscuits, cheese, eggs (as seen above), breakfast cereals, lard, milk and canned and dried fruit. By August 1942, the only foods that hadn’t been rationed were bread, potatoes, coffee, vegetables, fruit and fish. The Ministry of Food issued ration books to every citizen and families were required to ‘register’ at a chosen shop.The ration book contained coupons that could be exchanged for their fair share of goods. The ‘Don’t Shoot The Man Behind The Counter’ advert that you can see in the slideshow below outlined the process for those that were unsure.

At the height of rationing, Sainsbury’s introduced our ‘Fair Shares’ scheme - a way of rewarding customers with points when they registered for their rations. The more items that customers registered for with Sainsbury’s, the more points they received which in turn could be ‘spent’ on non-rationed Sainsbury’s goods. This gave people a reason to visit Sainsbury’s above other suppliers of rationed goods. The scheme was so impressive that the Ministry of Food introduced a country-wide points scheme, on behalf of the government, covering a wider range of grocery lines.

Sainsbury’s also provided hard-pressed households with another reason to shop at our stores, by producing recipe cards and meal ideas for families that used ingredients that could be purchased with their reward points. You can see some of the original copies of these in the slideshow at the bottom of the page. Sainsbury’s commitment to helping families live well for less was more important than ever, during such difficult times.  


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Basket of Own Brand Groceries, 1947

Sainsbury's Rationing Rationale

Given the difficulties faced by much of the retail industry during rationing, Sainsbury’s further promoted ourselves with a series of newspaper advertisements. These adverts alleviated the fears of concerned citizens by providing basic rationing advice and championing the vast choice of goods available at Sainsbury’s, compared to our competitors. Customers were reminded that the convenience of visiting Sainsbury’s far outweighed the five or six separate trips that would otherwise be required to specialist shops. You’ll see some brilliant examples in the slideshow below.

But, perhaps a victim of our own success, Sainsbury’s stores were hit with unprecedented levels of footfall as people sought to register and spend their loyalty points. Enormous queues could be seen at peak times, prompting the Daily Bulletin to remark: “The knack of keeping happy those customers who are waiting is one of the greatest gifts which a saleswoman can possess”.

To remedy the situation and keep our loyal customer base happy, Sainsbury’s launched a ‘call backs’ scheme. This allowed people to leave a shopping list at the counter and return later to collect their items. On top of this, in areas that contained a large number of factory workers, Sainsbury’s would arrange for stores to stay open later, allowing customers to collect their orders at a more convenient time.

Sainsbury’s current Nectar Loyalty Card scheme, the largest of its kind in the United Kingdom, follows a long tradition of other Sainsbury’s reward schemes. Now the Nectar Loyalty Card scheme embodies precisely the same values as the ‘Fair Shares’ scheme sought to introduce back in 1940: providing excellent customer service, value for money and rewarding loyalty.

  • Advertisement for Sainsbury's 'Fair Shares' scheme, 1940

  • War-time Sausages price card

  • Register at Sainsbury's Rationing notice

  • Artwork for a war time newspaper advert

  • Careful Planning Makes Good Menus advert

  • More Notes for the Careful Planner advert

  • It's Clean - It's Fresh at Sainsbury's. Hand drawn and painted advert, 1948

  • J.Sainsbury ration card

  • Millions Balance the Household Budget by Shopping at Sainsbury's newspaper advert, 1937

  • A Shallow Purse Fills A Deep Basket advert, 1939

  • Sainsbury's Terminus Road Advert. Advert regarding the reopening of the store in Eastbourne, presumably after bomb damage.

  • Green Label Tea advert

  • Sainsbury's Have Been Filling Thrifty Shopping Baskets for 30 Years slogan on paper bag, 1939