Sources close to Waitrose said that it is mulling stores between 4,000 sq ft and 6,000 sq ft, although a time frame for a launch is unclear.
A Waitrose spokeswoman declined to comment on plans for convenience stores, but said: “We are always looking for new sites and considering different formats.”
It is understood that Waitrose’s plans for the convenience sector are separate to its interest in a number of up-for-sale Somerfield’s stores.
Waitrose managing director Mark Price (pictured) has admitted interest in some Somerfield stores. The UK convenience sector generates sales£26.1 billion a year, according to grocery expert IGD. Co-operative Group and Asda have both made first-round indicative offers for Somerfield, although both bids are understood to below the£2 billion to£2.5 billion asking price.
Industry observers believe that Waitrose’s plans for the convenience sector are logical and overdue. Allegra Strategies project director Steve Gotham said: “They are somewhat tardy considering the strong inroads that Sainsbury’s, M&S and Tesco have made.
“They have core strengths in perishables and convenience foods that are under-exploited in their formats.”
If Waitrose launches a convenience format, it would be another major initiative under Price’s leadership.
Since taking the helm, he has helped launch two new formats in London and sharpened pricing. Gotham said: “He seems like a man keen to make his mark.”
As Retail Week went to press, John Lewis Partnership was scheduled to unveil full-year results, expected to show it has outperformed the market.