Waitrose aims to be fit and sexy

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John Lewis has been the subject of much comment in the press recently, following on from remarks marketing director Craig Inglis made to Marketing Week where he said he has more to do to make sure the retailer becomes the “most trusted and loved” retail brand in Britain. He also suggested that he wants to update the retailer’s brand perception and get away from a possibly outdated image.

For me, John Lewis is already high up on the trust and love scale, partly because my family is the brand’s target audience and I grew up shopping there with my parents and worked on the shop floor for John Lewis Partnership food retailer Waitrose in my teens stacking biscuits and crisps every weekend. However, while the service as good, it was not exactly a “sexy” retail environment.

Fast-forward 17 years and speaking to the British Retail Consortium’s retail symposium yesterday (8 June), Mark Price, managing director of John Lewis sister retailer Waitrose, talked about being “fixy” – a combination of fit and sexy.

In the past, the focus on quality meant that the supermarket thought of itself as predominantly sexy – offering high-end products at a price. In 2008 it was selling £10-a-loaf Polaine bread, whereas Asda was offering sausages for 2p, Price remembers.

So, the focus now is firmly on being fit for the future, offering good value, but also ramping up the quality – the sexy part of the offering. The introduction of the Essential brand has contributed to an extra 150,000 customers coming into Waitrose, while at the premium end, it has introduced a slow cooked range and more Heston Blumenthal products, such as mustard ice cream.

Crucially, it is spending much more on marketing – up 80% on last year, and it has doubled the size of its product development team. Price is clearly a fan of marketing, proudly showing off the new Heston ad which sees him driving through South Africa talking about the Waitrose Foundation, and making a tart from lemons grown there. Price is not afraid to do things differently, telling the retail conference that he bullishly decided to do the opposite of the rest of the market, by dramatically upping ad spend.

All of this has resulted in an impressive uplift in turnover – with web sales alone up 41% on last year. Waitrose also has new pushes on convenience with its Good to Go range, featuring non-bread lunch goods, and Love Life, which is about nutritious food.

Price wants to grow the latter over the next year and will produce a quarterly magazine to go with the range of 270 products. We should also expect to see more in-store cafés, more city-centre Little Waitrose branches and outlets at Shell forecourts.

But this new ’fixy’ brand will come at a cost: £40 million will be raised through chain savings over the next three years. This will help Price to make Waitrose the brand that “is committed to the highest standards but delivered at the lowest cost.”

Perhaps John Lewis will also lean towards becoming ’fixy’ although for me, there is little to fix.

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