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Waitrose spreads its bets this winter

Published:  28 September, 2022

Waitrose is doubling down on its strategy of offering ‘something for everyone’ at all price points, with a mixture of promotions and everyday low-price sales remaining key to the retailer’s approach this autumn in store and through Waitrose Cellar.

A complex picture is emerging at the multiples this September, with vintage variations and currency depreciation all adding complexity to how buying habits are being impacted by the cost-of-living crisis.

However, Waitrose insists that it has the breadth and the depth of range in order to keep consumers coming back for more.

“We operate across a mega spectrum,” says partner and buying manager, Jamie Matthewson. “Our mantra is to offer the ease and convenience of a supermarket, but with the breadth of range of an indie. That makes our jobs both the best and worst in world, because it means we’re competing with retail behemoths and also agile indies. But our range is much broader than most supermarkets; and when it comes to pricing and ease, we’re more appealing than indies. We love our competition, but we always want to do better than them.”

As part of this extensive wine roll call, Waitrose currently operates a ‘one-in-one-out’ policy, with around 200 wines a year changing in its 1,400-strong portfolio. All wines in store are available on Waitrose Cellar. This equates to roughly 1,300 wines, with around 100 additional exclusives on Cellar.

“We consider Waitrose Cellar a bit of gem,” says Matthewson. “We’re able to lean into exclusive parcels and stock that you won’t find in other supermarkets.”

Several new wines were on show at yesterday’s tasting at the retailer’s Finchley Road Cookery School, including five recent new parcels from the Loved & Found range. Also shown were a number of interesting new additions, such as Amandla by Her Wine Collection – the black-owned, all female wine brand from South Africa.

Across the board, wines vary from “£5 ‘great value’ wines, to £100 Montrachets”, with quality prioritised at each price point.

Increasingly, however, it is becoming difficult to separate out trends. While we’re all – sadly – now getting used to the cost-of-living crisis, the worst is arguably yet to come, with other factors complicating the picture.

“Champagne volumes have been going down, year on year. But we’ve been constricted by supply and prices going up. So, is that consumers cutting back, or are they just not willing to pay those prices?” says Matthewson.

Promotions continue to be important to the retailer. Around 50% of sales are promoted sales, with the average price per bottle at Waitrose remaining relatively constant over the past year at £8.50. Sadly, there has been plenty of cost inflation for dry goods and labour – and very little wiggle room in terms of how much customers will tolerate passed-on costs.

Encouragingly, however, Matthewson says that consumer buying habits are rarely stuck in one lane. They are as varied and as complex as the economy itself – and catering to all tastes and budgets will therefore be the key to sales this winter.

“Customers tell us they like flexibility. They like our showcase on different regions, like our Italian Edit [for example], so they can explore different countries. It’s a repertoire of dipping in and out. Clearly, some customers like buying the same wine, week in, week out. But a lot of those customers are also exploring between categories. There has been a real demand for quality, too. People want to know it’s worth spending the money, at whatever price point,” he says.