A prime focus on quality and provenance has paid off for Waitrose, says Rod Addy

Our experts say...

“Totally focused range targeted at discerning, quality-focused consumers”

“The quality and provenance of food is key and Waitrose provides that and all the mainstream brands”

When you examine the facts, it’s no surprise that Waitrose has been voted the best UK retailer in our survey of the world’s finest food retailers. Its promising financial performance during tough times for retailers demonstrates how it can pay off to focus on quality and provenance rather than just price.
It boasted like-for-like sales growth of 4.4% in the 26 weeks to July 30, ahead of the 2% increase in the whole food and drink retail market. Analysts have hailed the figures as proof that Waitrose’s advertising and marketing are connecting with UK consumers’ growing appetite for premiumisation. Our judges’ verdict shows its reputation for premium, quality products has made an international impact.
Referring particularly to its Paddock Wood store in Kent, one member of our academy, Tim Kershaw, director at Libra Europe, said its “totally focused range” was “targeted at discerning, quality-focused consumers. Everything is geared to quality”.
“Great customer care and the best quality food,” says Greg Thomas, founder of consultancy The Retail Doctor, about Waitrose’s store in Swaffham, Norfolk.
Such is its success that Waitrose claims its offer is enabling it to steal customers from the other major supermarkets. Recent advertising campaigns have consistently hammered home its stress on provenance and quality. And analysts praised the chain for its strong ethical stance and its well-known promotion of organic food and drink when its half-year results were unveiled.
The company has not just made a name for itself among consumers. It is often the first on the lips of suppliers when they are asked to name the food and drink retailer they most like trading with. That could partly be due to the return it is willing to pay them. For instance, it has emerged as a clear favourite with dairy farmers for paying more than any other major supermarket for milk. And its longstanding support for smaller local producers has won a thumbs up from them.
What’s more, its acquisition of 24 Safeway stores in the past year gives it the opportunity to build on its success geographically. By mid-November its reach will extend as far north as Durham, giving supermarkets with larger estates pause for thought. And its recently launched Step Change programme, enabling it to cut construction time and costs for new builds, gives it the potential to shift its development up a gear. It aims to have 173 stores up and running by 2006.
Of all of its outlets, the retailer’s 80,000 sq ft Canary Wharf Food & Home store, opened in 2002, was name-checked the most by our academy of global experts. “The quality and provenance of food is key for our family and Waitrose/Ocado provide that and all the mainstream brands,” says academy member Mike Dennis, retail analyst at Cheuvreux.
The store’s mix of a strong fresh food offering, an 80-seater eatery and a wine bar is ideal for attracting the host of nearby affluent City workers. Academy member Siemon Scamell-Katz, chairman of ID Magasin, commends the store for its “fantastic food-to go-offer” and “great presentation”. Another member, Paul Clarke, retail and wholesale national director at Barclays, says he was impressed by the “great service, fantastic product and unique features”.
Given the store’s gleaming layout, it’s also easy to see why it prevailed over other retailers’ stores when it comes to winning votes for store ambience.
Waitrose marketing director Christian Cull takes the international recognition the chain has received in his stride, responding with suitable grace. “We’re thrilled to bits. What customers think of us is obviously foremost in our minds, but to be considered highly by people in the industry is very important. I think the major thing about Waitrose is that we’re real; we mean what we say. Customers trust us to deliver on our promises.”
He said part of what separated the chain from other retailers was its interest in communicating the source of its products. And he cited its emphasis on seasonality as another core strength.
Responding to the judges’ comments about specific Waitrose outlets, Cull said it was vital to keep them fresh and appealing to customers. “What keeps the stores alive is the people on the shop floor. For example, having meat specialists and cheese specialists instils respect. We are only as good as the staff in our stores,” he says.