By James Davey
LONDON (Reuters) - Nearly one fifth of votes cast at Sainsbury's annual shareholders' meeting on Friday opposed the British supermarket group's remuneration report in the latest investor protest against executive pay.
Ahead of the meeting investor advisory groups had recommended shareholders vote against the report because the board's remuneration committee opted to apply some upward discretion to payouts for 2020-21.
Investors have become more vocal in their opposition to boardroom pay deals they deem excessive amid society's broader struggles in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last month investors in Morrisons overwhelmingly rejected the grocer's pay report.
Sainsbury's said 19.4% of votes cast were against the resolution to approve the pay report, while 80.6% were in favour.
It noted the opposition.
"The remuneration committee regularly consults with our major shareholders in order to understand their views on key decisions, and we will continue this dialogue in future years," it said.
At the meeting, held both physically and virtually, Chairman Martin Scicluna was asked if Sainsbury's was vulnerable to a takeover following Morrisons' decision to agree a 6.3 billion pound ($8.7 billion) private equity buyout but declined to be drawn on the matter.
"What I can say is what we're doing, and what we're doing is very very clearly (focusing) on the strategy that (CEO) Simon (Roberts) has laid out which was approved by the board and on the execution of that plan," he said.
"We are very pleased with the progress that we are making and the operational improvements that we're making to the business and we're also very pleased that the market recognises that - and you will have seen and noted the share price outperformance over the last few months."
Shares in Sainsbury's are up 26% so far this year.
Bid speculation has swirled around the group since April when Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinsky raised his stake to just under 10% and has been fuelled over the last three weeks by a potential bid battle for Morrisons.
($1 = 0.7227 pounds)
(Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)