In which high street retailer would you find products as diverse as dragon fruit, mojito-style olives, ham in Polish beer and Ukranian honey pepper vodka under one roof? And what multiple grocery store has a dinner menu similar to that of a top-end restaurant? There's only one place - Waitrose Marylebone.
The refurbished store, which reopened last Thursday, is the blueprint for Waitrose's future as a super-premium retailer.
New additions include a Time of Day Counter serving breakfast, lunch or dinner; improved lighting; better signage, more focus on seasonality and a greater percentage of local products.
"The multiples are food-led general merchandisers who are moving more to non-food," says new MD Mark Price. "We want to be the best food retailer in the UK. We have a great estate and we want to reinforce the heritage of Waitrose as food expert and educator."
Price, who has just finished his second month at the helm of Waitrose, is a self-confessed food lover. Every Friday the 'chubby grocer' - as he is known after an unfortunate quip to a Sunday newspaper journalist - works his way through a coolbox of new products, and nothing goes on shelf without him tasting it.
"I love tasting food, it is a great example of what Waitrose stands for," he says. "Food is the DNA of our business."
But it is not a knee-jerk reaction to the recent opening of Whole Foods Market on UK soil, he asserts. Nor is it because premium food store Natural Kitchen has opened 15 doors down. "This is a natural evolution for Waitrose and part of our long-term plans. For example, we have been operating a form of Time of Day concept in some stores for six or seven years."
Price is also keen to play down the connection between him starting as boss at Waitrose and the roll out of the company's new look. Plans for the Marylebone store have been in place for two years and he insists he is merely continuing with the original game plan.
Despite the move even further upmarket, the retailer also wants to be more price competitive on grocery lines. "Waitrose customers want the best quality food but we also recognise that we have to offer value for money when it comes to branded groceries," says Price. "So when you buy Maxwell House or Heinz baked beans I would expect people to be paying the same price as they would at our competitors." It's the same for milk. "We pay a premium to farmers for milk but charge a similar price as our competitors. You are getting better milk, more money goes to the farmer and the consumer pays no more, which is a fantastic example of what we stand for."
He believes it is unfair to compare the price of Waitrose's standard lines with competitors' and challenges the notion that Waitrose is expensive. "Multiples have a mislabelled value line as well as a 'finest' or 'best' line," he says. "My contention is that these value lines are not value for money - there is a difference between cheapness and value. Our baseline product is just as good as some of the 'best' ranges of our competitors."
The next store to be refurbished will be Finchley Road in November. Waitrose has bought back the lease to the neighbouring Habitat and will knock it through to double retail space to 25,000 sq ft. In December, when the company has assessed both refits, it will develop nationwide plans.
Price is adamant the new look will not be confined to the London area. "There is no doubt Londoners tend to have more cosmopolitan tastes and London is a great test-bed for cutting edge concepts but they will roll out across the UK. I don't have a budget for all the refurbishments yet because I don't know which aspects we will keep, but my instinct is that 90% of the changes made to Marylebone will work nationwide."
The future also holds a closer relationship between Waitrose and John Lewis. Price says he will be working with friend and colleague Andy Street, MD of John Lewis. Their first collaboration will be the opening in October of a food hall in John Lewis's Oxford Street store. He promises it will be completely different from the supermarket offering but he is giving little away.
What Price can't hide, however, is his confidence in the business. He already knows where the second and third food halls will be should London be a success and, with so much focus on Waitrose's core values - premium, organic, fair trade, local, seasonal, ethical and environmental - is in little doubt it will.
As he says: "It's a good time to be Waitrose." n