In a letter to branded suppliers sent out this week, commercial director Richard Hodgson said undermining brands or delisting them was not a path it wanted to pursue.
"We have no intention of removing successful brands from our shelves to replace them with tertiary lines with no heritage," Hodgson wrote, in a clear attack on Tesco's new 'discount' range. The letter also alluded to Sainsbury's Switch and Save campaign, adding, "we are not trying to persuade our customers to switch from brands to own label in the way some supermarkets are ."
However, the letter also hinted at further negotiations over price and promotions. Waitrose believed in brands, the letter continued, and encouraged suppliers to contact their retail buyer to discuss "relevant opportunities" if they wanted their brands to "prosper with Waitrose". The supermarket refused to be drawn on what those opportunities would be or how brands would prosper.
Brands had performed particularly well in Waitrose over the past two years as its prices had become more competitive with Sainsbury's and Tesco. Promotional line volumes had increased an average of 8%, it claimed.
But suppliers have been put out by the letter, claiming Waitrose will still be negotiating hard. "Waitrose is better than some of the multiples to deal with, but it still drives a pretty hard bargain," one branded supplier told The Grocer.
A spokeswoman for Waitrose confirmed it had no plans to promote own label over brands, and that its offer was genuine. "Ensuring competitive pricing is an ongoing commitment," she added. "The letter was to reinforce to suppliers our commitment to branded as well as own label. This is not in preference over own-label food - it is to reassure suppliers we would not adopt a switch-and-save policy."