Waitrose will fight to maintain its leading fresh food proposition this year with an increase of 15%-20% in sales space for its range across each of its stores.
MD Steven Esom said Waitrose is embarking on a major investment programme to improve its offer. “There’s an opportunity to grow our fresh food and we’ll invest in new refrigeration and wider ranges.”
The chain had performed exceptionally well over Christmas, he added, with like-for-like sales increasing by 6.2%, excluding petrol, during the
seven weeks to January 7.
Esom added: “In the past 12 months we’ve been seeing a flight to quality, which was also reflected in M&S’s positive food results. We’re seeing extremely high growth in locally sourced food, speciality produce, organic food, meat and fish. The market is demonstrating lower growth in the core grocery sectors.” Waitrose plans to open up to seven new supermarkets this year, including branches in Ampthill, Bloomsbury and Cheadle Hulme, as well as completing six store extensions in East Sheen, Goldsworth Park, Saltash, Berkhamsted, Sudbury and Bury St Edmunds. Plans for more store extensions in 2007 are also underway.
Bill Bishop, head of Waitrose’s Store Improvement Programme, vowed to keep up the pace of modernising established stores rather than concentrating investment only on acquisitions.
While not as glamorous as the new store development scheme, dubbed Toronto 2, continued improvements were equally important to Waitrose’s future, said Bishop. “In the past we have left it too long to update branches - and we will not allow that to occur again.”
Stores in Leighton Buzzard, Cambridge and St Albans were among the first to be completed under the new improvement programme during October and November last year. The package can be tailored to individual stores’, ranging from extensions and refurbishments to the lower key ‘refresh’ programme.
“Partners think we concentrate on acquisitions, but they couldn’t be more wrong,” added Bishop. “A lot of money and resources are being invested in established branches.”
Meanwhile, Waitrose has stood by the acquisition of 25 Morrisons stores since 2004, despite CACI, the location and market analysis company, reporting that the catchments of stores in Sheffield and Barry, south Wales, did not fit its key demographic groups.
>>p38 Northern exposure
Rachel Barnes