Waitrose: The Silent Expansion

unnamed (1)The global supermarket chain “beasts” Walmart, Carrefour and Tesco have struggled through the recession and its stuttering recovery. Analysts have called for them to concentrate on regaining lost profitability in their home markets but it is these developed, mature markets that are under deflationary pressures. So, how to grow? In the UK, Waitrose has been steaming ahead, notwithstanding its premium price position in the market place. What’s more, like Marks & Spencer, Waitrose has sniffed sales opportunities for its products in overseas markets, particularly those with strong expatriate populations – Dubai and Abu Dhabi, for example, have 200,000+ Britons who were weaned on pork pies, Marmite and cream cakes and they have the disposable incomes to afford indulgent treats!

Waitrose private label products are sold in selected supermarket outlets in 50 countries across the world. Most of these countries have strong connections with Britain – whether it be the Commonwealth connection like Australia, South Africa and Barbados, retirement favourites such as Spain, strong business links as per Hong Kong, high income countries with no immediate cultural link but where the UK and London in particular is fashionable, South Korea comes to mind, or more randomly up market supermarkets in emerging countries that seek to benefit from Waitrose’s premium halo – for example, a lone premium supermarket we visited in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. While the UK is hardly world famous for its cuisine, the food halls in Harrods, Fortnum & Mason and Selfridge’s are tourist destinations for those visiting London and celebratory chefs such as Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsey have served to raise the profile of British foods. Waitrose capitalises on this anglophilial food trend.

Waitrose provides an exclusive private label source for supermarkets seeking to attract expatriate shoppers in many countries. Also,it has a licensing deal with Spinneys of the UAE to run stores under the Waitrose banner but run by Spinneys. Licensing a brand name comes with risk, of course, and a licensing deal in Bahrain dissolved when the local partner filed for bankruptcy! In the great scheme of things, the overseas revenue generated by Waitrose products sales is not great but accounts for about 5% of total sales and provides incremental volume to Waitrose’s private label suppliers.

Is Waitrose a global brand? No – but for sentimental British expatriates and those that want the full British food experience to complement reading a Harry Potter novel or, God forbid, watching Jeremy Clarkson and the Top Gear lads, Waitrose products are available around the world and make their own tiny contribution to culinary globalisation!

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About the authors
Prof David Hughes: Around the world, David speaks to senior agribusiness and food industry managers about global food industry developments that are and will affect their businesses and industry. Energetic, engaging, humorous and insightful, David gains the very highest evaluations at seminars, conferences and Board level discussions in every continent he visits. Miguel Flavián: works for several Spanish organisations and companies to help them to learn from the developments of the British grocery market and improve their business back home.
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