Sainsbury's customers in Croydon have expressed outrage that one of the supermarket giant's managers referred to shoppers in the borough as "pikeys".

Health and beauty boss Lisa Collins recently told an Institute of Grocery Distributors conference that product trials in "safe" areas would be followed by those in other parts of the country.

She added: "Or, as we call them, our pikey customers."

The word is abusive slang for travellers or poor people with low morals, and is widely used in a similar context to the American phrase "trailer trash".

She said the areas concerned were Hereford, Cobham in Surrey, and Croydon, where shoppers reacted angrily outside the store's Whitgift Centre outlet on Friday.

Andy Hopkins, 42, of Thursley Crescent, New Addington, is a piano removal specialist, who has travelled around the country in a caravan.

He said: "When I heard about it I was totally shocked. I have been a traveller myself and I found the comments totally demeaning. I was angry and disgusted with the manager."

Project co-ordinator Winston Channer, 36, of Woodside Road, Thornton Heath, felt that the comments were "rude and offensive" to anyone from Croydon.

He added: "However, I won't be changing where I shop because of one silly comment."

Student Martin Carter, 17, of White Horse Road, Thornton Heath, said: "That is not a fair representation of the people of Croydon."

Ms Collins has since apologised for the slur and a Sainsbury's spokesperson told the Guardian: "We would like to apologise to anyone who has taken offence. It was an off-the-cuff remark, meant as a joke. She was very distressed and deeply regrets her error of judgement."