sainsbury's sign

Sainsbury’s: getting it right … or not?

Large retailers aren’t always guilty of gender stereotyping and quite a few of you have recommended Sainsbury’s as an example of good practice.

We’ve had a look and there seem to be some inconsistencies in their approach. In some areas they’re getting it right and other major retailers could certainly learn from them. However despite some great examples of best practice, their approach to gender and toys seems to vary across the brand, even from store to store; in some they’re still displaying gendered signage. A new mini site they launched this summer is gloriously free from gender stereotypes. Outdated, lazy gendered marketing persists on their main site, sadly.

See below for our letter to Sarah Warby, Marketing Director at J Sainsbury’s on what they’re getting right, and what they need to change.

We look forward to receiving a reply soon, and will keep you posted. In the meantime, feel free to add your voice: either comment below, or contact Sainsbury’s directly.

Facebook: Post to the Sainsbury’s Facebook page


Our Letter

Dear Ms Warby

Let Toys Be Toys is a grassroots consumer group campaigning to end sexism in the marketing of children’s toys. We’re asking retailers such as yourselves to stop limiting children’s interests by promoting some toys as only suitable for girls, and others only for boys.

This month we are launching our “Toymark” quality approval scheme and we would love to be able to award it to a major supermarket. Although Sainsbury’s is not there yet we feel encouraged by much of what we’ve seen at your stores. We would like to enter into discussions with you to see if you would be able to work towards meeting our criteria for such an award.

The Good

kettleWe are very pleased to see numerous examples of good practice in Sainsbury’s stores, with toys marketed by theme rather than gender in many of your stores, and domestic toys in colours other than pink, being marketed in a gender-neutral way.

Your brilliant Boredom Busting website, launched this summer, promotes toys and activities equally to both genders and, as such, is an example of best practice. We’re delighted to see it and would love to be able to champion Sainsbury’s as a beacon of non-gendered marketing. We are prevented from doing this, however, by the persistence of gendered marketing in some of your stores and on your main website.

Boredom Busters Website

What a great website. No gender stereotyping, simply great games and activities for everyone

The Bad

We have noticed that in some stores the placement decisions and signs demonstrate a more segregated approach. For example, we’ve seen Lego Friends placed with dolls rather than other construction kits. We were dismayed also when we saw that the J Sainsbury in Hove, Sussex, has gendered signage (please see attached picture).

Boys Toys Sign Sainsburys in Hove

Sainsburys Hove, May 2013. Many thanks to LTBT supporter Donna Imrie-Brown


It appears that your main website has a very different approach to your new “Boredom Busting” one. Here, toys are marketed strongly by gender with toys such as construction, action figures and cars marketed overtly to boys, and toys such as dolls, ‘pretend and play’ and arts & crafts marketed for girls, linked from the main toy page at .

sainsburys boys girl on web
You offer 22 construction toys to girls and 114 to boys. As parents we are well aware that children in reality do not follow these gendered rules. As toys are essential for children’s development, such outdated categorisations can only serve to limit opportunities for our children’s development. They are also are confusing, possibly even offensive to the customer.

A rapidly growing groundswell of consumers agrees: the campaign started only eight months ago and our social media likes and follows are now approaching 10,000. We have appeared on BBC television, radio and in print media such as the Independent and Daily Mail, and you’ll find support of the campaign across the internet; if you Google us, you’ll get over 150,000 results.

The Confusing

We are disappointed that the good practice we found at many Sainsbury’s shops does not extend to all your stores and we wonder: why the inconsistency? We would be grateful if could let us know your policy on gendered signage.

It is disappointing to see some Sainsbury’s stores persisting with gendered marketing, when so many retailers (including Boots, Tesco, The Entertainer and Next) agree that marketing toys by gender is a thing of the past and have committed to change.

What Next?

We seek a commitment from you to end the practice of sexist toy marketing at Sainsbury’s. This would involve measures like making gendered signage a thing of the past across your brand, toys consistently arranged by theme rather than gender, colours other than just pink used in doll marketing and the removal of the gender filter on the web.

We can offer substantial insight to you as a representative of thousands of customers. We would be delighted to meet with you to discuss how we could work together.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Let Toys Be Toys


Sainsbury’s Sign photo: Elliott Brown

1 Comment

  1. Anna Dayan

    Oh I thought sainsburys was a bit more classy than having that sort of signage (especially in Hove actually…)

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