Waitrose is launching a new own-label range to broaden its appeal with credit-crunched shoppers.

The 1,400-strong Essential Waitrose range, which hits shelves on Monday, is its biggest-ever product launch and will be priced below other Waitrose labels but above the big four’s budget lines. Comprising rebranded lines and 200 new lines, the range will feature a new universal pack design.

The move comes four months after Waitrose wrote to suppliers purporting to be the champion of brands.

In the letter, an attack on Tesco’s Discounter range and Sainsbury's Switch and Save campaign, commercial director Richard Hodgson wrote: “We are not trying to persuade customers to switch from brands to own label in the way some supermarkets are.”

The new range is being introduced as the retailer faces fresh criticism from suppliers for its tough negotiating tactics. In a move suppliers have compared to M&S’s Project Genesis, Waitrose has written to both brand and own-label suppliers requesting cuts of “at least 2% off cost prices”.

The letter blames “aggressive demands” from competitors, but adds: “With the investment potential created by falling commodity prices, Waitrose feels this support is essential.” Suppliers would benefit from increased volume, said a spokeswoman. “So it’s essential trading terms are improved.”

But suppliers were unconvinced. “Waitrose has made an immensely aggressive move,” said one “They haven’t learnt from M&S’s tactics. They just expect us to stump up.”