Waitrose is to launch a market-town format next week as it considers setting up a convenience store chain.

Next week, the John Lewis Partnership-owned chain will open its first market-town store in St Neots, Cambridgeshire. The shop is a remodelling of an existing outlet.

The 13,000 sq ft St Neots store will offer a higher proportion of fresh food – 50 per cent of space compared to 39 per cent in a standard Waitrose – and a 200 per cent increase in locally sourced produce. Fresh and frozen options will also be located next to each other in the new-look outlet.

Waitrose will open a further market-town store, acquired from Budgens, in Buckingham in June and another, purchased from the Co-op, in Brackley, Northamptonshire, in July.

Waitrose managing director Mark Price said: “Our brand has traditionally operated most successfully at around 20,000 sq ft, but in an increasingly competitive marketplace the challenge was to develop the potential of smaller shops in our estate. The market-town format will allow us to achieve that.

“What we’ve aimed to do is reflect the ambience of a traditional grocery shop by focusing on the sense of community and service associated with our brand.”

Waitrose director of store development Diana Hunter said: “When we did research in small market towns with people who live in those towns, they were shopping for fresh food three to four times a week. We actually spent time in houses looking at their fridges and recipe books.”

She declined to comment on reports that Waitrose is planning to launch at least 100 market-town and convenience stores, which Retail Week reported will be sized about 4,000 sq ft (RW Online). However, she said: “We will consider convenience, so we are thinking about how we might apply our brand to convenience.”