Posted: 16/10/2017

Indies braced as Waitrose plans to upgrade in-store “experience”

Waitrose: sushi counters in more than 50 branches this year

Waitrose latest plans will encroach on farm shop and delicatessen territory with a focus on the experiential side of shopping and foodservice as it battles dwindling margins.

Sir Charlie Mayfield, chairman of Waitrose parent John Lewis Partnership, said at last month’s interim results that Waitrose was “systematically improving the quality of the experience and service proposition”.

It invested in 68 branches in the first half of the year, including the rollout of fresh sushi counters, which were now in more than 50 of its branches.

Waitrose said foodservice is “an important strategic focus”, because it gives customers extra reasons to visit, and it appointed its first-ever director of food service, Simon Burdess, this summer.

The supermarket chain announced pre-exceptional operating profit down 17.4% in the half-year ended 29th July. Revenue climbed 2.2% to £3.1bn and like-for-like sales edged up 0.7%.

Sir Charlie pointed to inflationary pressures driven by exchange rates and political uncertainty, with an increase in cost prices which put pressure on margins. “We have chosen to hold back on increasing prices across many areas,” he said.

Tristan Clements, owner of Exeter delicatessen Bon Gout, considers Waitrose “a threat, regardless of the chain’s future plans”.

“They are like a big glorified delicatessen really,” he told FFD. “They hit us hard the day they opened nearby three or four years ago. Takings went down 30% but we are still here.”

Clements said Waitrose could not compete on the quality of staff. “I’m not saying they don’t care but we really care for our customers.

“We make a lot of stuff ourselves which you can’t get at Waitrose or anywhere else and that makes us more exclusive.”

Charles Bradford, managing director of The Gog Farm Shop, in Cambridge, said Waitrose was “always a threat even if not a direct threat.”

He said that as other delis and farm shops got “wiped out”, the entire supply chain was affected. “I’d like to think we can be agile enough to outmanoeuvre that sort of threat.”

The reason Waitrose is copying farm shops and delicatessens is because of their innovations and ability to spot trends and react to them quicker, said Bradford.

Iain Hemming, co-owner of Thyme & Tides Deli in Stockbridge, Hampshire, however said Waitrose had to plan changes a long time ahead whereas his business could switch things up on a daily and even hourly basis as circumstances dictated.

“We offer something that’s different. You have to keep evolving the offer and the experience yourself.”

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