Waitrose, like the rest of the grocery sector, is facing dramatic structural and cyclical change. While the environment remains tough and like-for-like sales had been coming under pressure, the upmarket grocer has grown market share in recent years.

Waitrose is part of the John Lewis Partnership (JLP), along with the eponymous department store business, and accounted for 65% of group sales in the year to 30 January 2021 (FY2020).

Waitrose has been headed by executive director James Bailey (a former grocery buying director at Sainsbury’s) from April 2020. The creation of an executive role of the grocery business, which sits on the JLP executive team, is part of an overall plan to bring the two different retailers closer together operationally, while maintaining separate brand identities.

Waitrose’s overall sales increased 10.5% to £7.04bn in FY2020, while like-for-like sales were up 10%.  Trading operating profit climbed 7.7% to £1,145m.

Trading through around 330 supermarkets and convenience stores, as well as a number of motorway services, innovating the in-store experience is also a focus, as well as developing technology capabilities to enhance this. With a focus on store optimisation, Waitrose has also been closing stores in recent years.

JLP chair Dame Sharon White launched a strategic review of the business in early 2020 in a bid to “reverse our profit decline and return to growth”, which “could take three to five years to show results”.

A five-year strategy for the Partnership, revealed later in the year, includes plans to expand its digital, virtual and delivery capabilities in order to reach more customers around the UK, including through an extension of services. White’s ambition is for the strategy to deliver £400m profit by the five-year point.  

As well as developing its online operations, which also include specialist websites Waitrose Cellar and Waitrose Kitchen, and gift, pet, floristry and garden offshoots – Waitrose’s investment is targeting multichannel development and the use of data for good customer experience across channels.

Innovation rating: 3

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