Could there be a more obvious restaurant retail tie-up than Waitrose and Yotam Ottolenghi?

There may be the odd bit of scoffing from some quarters that this latest partnership is ‘so Waitrose’, but actually that’s the point. This is ‘so Waitrose’ and more power to them.

The launch of a new exclusive ingredients range into Waitrose next week feels like a match made in heaven. For Ottolenghi it’s the chance to bring his products to the masses – to move beyond the perception that his ‘London-centric’ food is only for accomplished home cooks.

Likewise, it marks a coup for Waitrose after it cut ties with Heston Blumenthal last year.

What Waitrose shoppers expect

The Ottolenghi reputation brings the inspiration and pizazz Waitrose shoppers expect. Importantly, it restores a rare point of difference to Waitrose stores that has arguably been lost over recent years as rivals stepped up their innovation game.

The nine-strong range of spices, sauces and a marinade marks a step in the right direction to replicate the excitement of the early years of the Blumenthal partnership, but in a way that appeals to a contemporary version of the traditional ‘scratch cook’ Waitrose customer. 

With clean, classy red on white packaging, the range has a genuinely premium feel, and to be fair the price range of £3.95 to £5 is at the higher end of the category. But Waitrose shoppers will always pay a little more if they are getting excited and inspired by a product, and this range should certainly have that effect. 

Of course, many of the Heston products caught shoppers’ imaginations in a big way, but these were often special one-time-only purchases, such as the famous Hidden Orange Christmas Pudding. What retailers need more is a little bit of something special that shoppers will buy week after week.

A point not lost on Waitrose head buyer Giles Fisher, who introduced Ottolenghi to the supermarket.

“Heston became much more seasonal,” Fisher told The Grocer. “This has much more year-round, everyday appeal.”

A testament to Waitrose’s quality credentials

Interestingly, this new partnership may never have happened. 

At the range’s launch event this week, Ottolenghi revealed he first discussed a range with Fisher six years ago. Those initial talks failed to yield results, with the chef then meeting with development teams from other unnamed supermarkets, which also fell through.

One of the chef’s primary concerns was being able to replicate quality in a longer shelf life product. When Waitrose resumed talks just over a year ago, the supermarket matched him with manufacturers from its existing supply base who convinced him it was possible.

That Waitrose is the grocer that has been able to get products onto shelves also speaks volumes to its quality credentials, and the expertise of its food development team.

Waitrose is onto a winner, but it can’t rest on its laurels. Much more of the same will be needed if it’s to maintain momentum. The decision of whether to extend the range, and into which products, will be essential.

However, it’s a sign of a much more confident and reinvigorated Waitrose after a tough couple of years.

Despite the wider leadership changes underway at the John Lewis Partnership, it is heartening to see Waitrose’s development team are staying focused on the job at hand, rather than waiting for incoming JLP chairman Jason Tarry to arrive in September and start waving a magic wand. Along with Ottolenghi, they have delivered a little bit of magic right here, right now.