Waitrose has emerged as the real winner this year, says Julian Hunt

The future looks bleak for Unwins as it continues its desperate fight for survival. Rod Addy reports

Tesco may have been strongest financial performer in 2005, but as Britain’s number one was battered by negative publicity, it was Waitrose that emerged as the real retail winner of the year.
Sales are booming - up more than 4% on a like-for-like basis in the first six months of the year - as the chain capitalises on a growing consumer love affair with food that offers quality and provenance. Waitrose is also well placed to tap into another emerging trend: consumer concerns over the ethical dimensions of food retailing.
Its stellar top line performance has been boosted by an aggressive expansion programme, which has seen Waitrose buy and revamp 24 stores from Morrisons in the past 18 months. Together with its newbuild stores, that activity has allowed Waitrose to expand its brand northwards out of its traditional heartland.
And MD Steven Esom is keen to keep the momentum going. As he told The Grocer only last week, the retailer wants to double its market share, strengthen its presence in the north and be operating 250 stores within 10 years.
Esom remarked: “We have a pretty healthy organic development plan but most of our growth will come through acquisitions. There are definitely more opportunities in the north and, again, it’s all about acquiring the sites.”
Waitrose’s clever rebranding strategy for the former Morrisons stores not only ensured impressive sales figures
but also earned the retailer a place on the shortlist at The Grocer Gold Awards for best consumer initiative.
Its integrated marketing campaign created excitement among would-be shoppers while managing to override perceptions about the price differential between the new Waitrose stores and former Morrisons outlets. The
resulting Smile campaign was praised for its imagination and creativity by The Grocer Gold judges.
It’s no surprise because, if there is one thing at which Waitrose excels, it is at clearly communicating its brand proposition. Another is its strong relationship with suppliers, particularly when it comes to working with small local producers and dairy farmers. The year has not been without the occasional glitch, however - the most recent being the shock news that popular director of buying Angela Megson will be quitting the company at the end of January after three years in the role. Nevertheless, Waitrose’s profile has never been higher - a fact reflected in our recent survey where we identified the world’s finest food retailers. Waitrose emerged as the best British retailer in that survey, while its 80,000 sq ft Food & Home outlet in London’s Canary Wharf was named as the best store in the country, thanks to its great service, fantastic product and presentation and impressive food-to-go offer.
However, in the same survey, US supermarket