Given its history of exclusive and extravagant tie-ups with celebrity chefs, it’s hardly a surprise Waitrose has levelled up with its latest foray: meal kits. But they’re no ordinary meal kits…

Last week the supermarket acquired “restaurant quality” meal delivery company Dishpatch for an undisclosed sum. The premium brand offers menus developed by celebrity and Michelin-starred chefs including Rick Stein, Atul Kochhar and Andi Oliver for customers to order and eat at home.

In some ways, Waitrose is following wider sector trends by providing a meal kit solution of its own, as supermarkets look to tap into a growing consumer trend of trading down from restaurants into jazzier nights in.

Compared with Sainsbury’s offer of Gousto kits on shelf, though, Waitrose is wafting very fancy grub to its foodie customers, including Lobster Thermador or Café Paris Monkfish, washed down with a bottle of 2022 St John Picpoul.

It forms the latest part of a much wider, “very deliberate strategy” by Waitrose in recent years to redefine who it sees as its core target customer, driven by a need to regain any market lost to M&S.

“We’ve done quite a lot of work sharpening our customer targeting,” Waitrose customer director Nathan Ansell tells The Grocer.

Waitrose’s redefined customer offer

“Put simply, it’s people who really value good quality food, probably a little bit more adventurous. We’re not talking about food snobs, but people who care about food and are prepared to invest a little bit more in a really good food experience.”

That still sounds fairly nebulous. However, when compared with Waitrose’s former definition of its target customer as being a “premium food engaged customer,” it’s much more refined. 

Ansell also insists the supermarket has a more detailed breakdown of its target consumer.

Dishpatch fits “very, very well” with this group, Ansell said, as there was already a “high degree of overlap” between Waitrose shoppers and Dishpatch’s subscribers.

Coincidentally, he also points to the supermarket’s strong connections with chef Angela Hartnett as another “neat” crossover. The Cafe Murano chef presents Waitrose’s Dish podcast alongside former BBC Radio One DJ Nick Grimshaw. She’s also a visible presence in Dishpatch’s branding.

Along with a programme of store investment underway, and much improved work on availability, there is no reason why Dishpatch can’t add another compelling reason for shoppers to return, if it can be integrated well.

But the business is reluctant to share much about how its new meal kit arm will integrate into the wider Waitrose offering.

It’s known, for the immediate future, the two businesses will remain separate – including their supply chains – and Dishpatch CEO Peter Butler will also remain in charge.

Can Waitrose make meal kit deliveries work?

Waitrose’s initial focus will be to bolster Dishpatch’s reach beyond its current 85,000 users. Initially, through leveraging the supermarket’s social media channels, and Dish podcast.

However, there are a “whole bunch” of ideas about how the two brands can work together, Ansell said.

On that front, there are plenty of opportunities that fit alongside Waitrose’s customer offer, says Oliver Pinder, a former head of commercial at Gousto and now founder of The Meals Collective.

The opportunity to integrate click & collect services in stores, as well as to embed elements of Dishpatch’s SupperClub membership scheme within Waitrose’s MyWaitrose scheme, are other options, Pinder highlights.

However, there are also challenges. Most significantly Dishpatch’s “pretentious” premium price point. A meal for two can cost up to £136, which will only appeal to a smaller proportion of customers unless lowered.

Pinder’s top nugget of advice to Waitrose? “Don’t overcomplicate it.”