Sainsbury‘s chief executive Justin King has insisted the UK retailer will not delist brands for reasons of sustainability and will only act when consumers stop buying products.

Speaking at an event to provide an update on Sainsbury’s sustainability programme, King said the practice of “choice editing” – when companies limit the products consumers can buy, often for environmental reasons – was in reality “choice denial”.

If consumers decided not to buy certain brands for ethical reasons, then Sainsbury’s would act but not before, King said.

The Sainsbury’s boss was challenged on the issue by Julia Hailes, author of The Green Consumer Guide. She said the retailer should apply the same ethical standards to brands as it does to its own-label lines. Hailes told King the retailer should choice edit.

“You have values as a company. If your branded suppliers for example were destroying the rainforest, would you go on stocking those suppliers? And if so, the signal it conveys to the consumer is that you don’t really care about that issue, all you’re concerned about is making money and that’s why you’re stocking those suppliers,” Hailes said. “So you’ve got to draw the line somewhere in terms of those values and say: ‘Actually as an organisation, we are committed not just on our own-brand products but right across the board.”

The Sainsbury’s boss disagreed. “No business in retail will be successful denying large numbers of consumers the opportunity to buy what they want to buy as part of their weekly grocery shop,” King said. “Every promise we make is 100% in every own-label product and any consumer that wants to have reassurance needs only to buy 100% own-label. Then you have a delivery against that promise.

“It’s more challenging with brands as brands make different promises. We believe in informed choice and we will of course edit choice when consumers tell us that’s what they want us to do. How do we know? We have unbelievable data. When you stop buying as consumers, we’ll stop selling, it’s that simple.”