Waitrose is scouting around for a third regional distribution centre to support its expansion plans, revealed MD Steven Esom.
Four new stores are planned this year in Belgravia, Mill Hill, Portishead and Romsey, and "at least that number" of new stores are planned in 2004, said Esom.
"We would love to get into Manchester and Leeds and, as the business grows, we are looking for a third RDC to support our expansion. The possibility of that being in the north is very high."
Between four and five major store extensions are also planned for this year, while Waitrose will be first in the queue for Safeway stores that come on the market, he added.
Waitrose posted a 5% rise in sales for the year to January 25, and a 4% rise on a like-for-like basis, growth that has continued into the new year, said Esom. As EDLP took more of a hold in a market increasingly dominated by Tesco and Asda, Waitrose's market position had become "even more clear, even more differentiated as a food specialist," said Esom.
A lot of work was being done to improve Waitrose's web based portal Connect, which enables suppliers to tap into their sales through the chain. A new automated picking trolley for the store based online shopping service Waitrose Deliver was also driving efficiency, he added.
Waitrose had looked at online auctions as a procurement tool and decided not to proceed. "It's not our style," said Esom. "We are trying to foster long-term relationships with our suppliers rather than switching volumes between them all the time."
The two new Food & Home stores at Canary Wharf and Cheltenham had performed "outstandingly," said Esom.