Waitrose confident of future plans, says Price

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Mark Price: driving volume

Waitrose is confident about its future expansion plans including a push into hospitality and non-food development, according to managing director Mark Price.

Speaking at the 2010 IGD Convention, Price said these were “some of the things we are going to do to drive volume”.

Waitrose opens the doors on its cookery school in London later this month and opened a new Food & Home store in Leeds featuring new concepts on 1 October.

Price said a new initiative would be launched in spring 2011 but refused to provide further detail.

Expansion will be via organic growth rather than acquisition.

Waitrose plans to open 30 supermarkets and convenience stores a year. In its partnership with other players, Price there was potential for 23 Waitrose stores on Welcome Break sites and there are 700 Boots stores, which currently sell food.

“Retaining the culture is very, very important,” he said. “Big acquisitions are out of the question because it’s hard to impose the Waitrose culture. We have a monastic expansion policy, developing people internally to match the growth we are planning.”

The timing was ideal, he said.

“We have a very strong balance sheet and make very strong operating margins therefore we are able to invest. There is space in the market and we have a fantastic team of people at Waitrose – the skills and talent base to execute those plans.”

On the economy he was fairly upbeat. “I don’t think we will see a double dip but that’s not to say it’s not going to be difficult. It will be tough for the next year or two for the industry as a whole,” he said.

Price revealed Waitrose had doubled the number of promotions, including deep cut offers, from 400 to 800 a month. They accounted for 18%-20% of sales. “The vast majority of people are purchasing food at full margin,” he said.

On sustainability, Waitrose was committed to British farmers and the retailer’s own performance in this area was “pretty good”, said Price, “but there is still a lot more we can do”.

Future development should be centred on being a restorative retailer in areas such as fish, he said.

“It’s not just sustainable but putting things back, restoring what we have already taken.”

Organic has future potential, he maintained, and recent launch of the Duchy range was well timed.

“I dispute that organics are going out of fashion. The timing is perfect to get people thinking again about what lies behind the food they eat,” he said.

Price added consumers were trading down from restaurants into top end ranges such as Duchy while the entry price range Essentials had attracted new shoppers.

Online sales presented a greater opportunity for parent John Lewis, which plans to double sales in future, said Price.

“I think food retailing is different,” he said, “people are visiting three times a week and increasingly doing top up trade with large drops of food made less frequently by the online channel.”

People want to shop in different ways, he said.