Richard Bickerton2

waitrose 2

Waitrose: investing in new prepared produce lines

Currently making the headlines for supposedly disagreeing with Morrisons’ controversial £216 million deal with Ocado, it’s easy to forget everything that isgoing right for Waitrose. With the retailer announcing an 11.1 per cent increase in sales for the first quarter of 2013, aswell as securing record market shares on a consistent basis, it has started the year in style.

Buyer Richard Bickerton is responsible for the retailer’s prepared category and with plans to launch several new product lines and sales consistently growing year on year, it’s clear that prepared produce remains a key area for the upmarket retailer.

Waitrose has outperformed its grocery market share of 4.4 per cent by 2.5 points with its 6.9 per cent share of the pre- pared produce category over the last 12 months. What has led to such positive performance?

Prepared produce is particularly popular because it is convenient, healthy and allows our shoppers to cook from scratch but with a helping hand along the way. For example, ready prepared vegetables are doing very well, such as butternut squash, which has already been peeled and cut into pieces. There is also a lot of innovation in this area, which keeps it exciting for customers and constantly introduces them to new ideas. We are currently training branch Partners as specialists for fruit, veg and horticulture too, so going forward there will be even more of a focus on fresh produce in our branches.

Can you tell us about any new lines in prepared produce that Waitrose is set to launch? And what sort of customer trends are you noticing when it comes to buying fresh produce? Lately it seems that more and more retailers are noting that customers are buying prepared for the convenience factor.

Time-saving products, such as pomegranates, are really popular with shoppers as well as products that contain unusual ingredients. Potato salad and coleslaw are always customer favourites, but we’re also seeing strong sales for salads with rice and grains such as quinoa. We’ve got lots of exciting products launching for the summer, including a salad with edible flowers and samphire and spinach with lemon butter in our ‘Menu from’range, a new 5 A DAY pack of prepared fruit and ‘shaker pots’ with fruit and coulis. The big focus for summer is always to showcase the best of British produce such as asparagus and Jersey Royal potatoes, as well as offering customers products from suppliers in their local area.

Prepared salads still continue to drive growth in the category while the prepared vegetable market is still young. Do you forecast a lot of growth within prepared vegetables?

Prepared vegetables are seeing strong sales and will continue to become increasingly popular. Ready-prepared stir fry vegetables are one of our fastest-growing areas as they offer an easy solution for midweek meals, particularly when there is a tasty sauce included in the pack. Our range of mini bags of vegetables have strong sales too as they offer customers the chance to mix and match and cater for different tastes in one household.

Has the bad weather impacted on salad sales at all on your end? And how impor- tant is it that in 2013 there isn’t a repeat of last year’s wet and windy conditions?

Generally shoppers are more likely to eat salad when the sun is shining but prepared produce is a great option all year round. Our suppliers have been doing their best to cope with the recent bad weather, and we work closely with them to get as much of their crop on our shelves as possible.

The bean spout and prepared fruit sectors were the only ones to record a decline in value over the last year – has this been a similar case for Waitrose? How can these categories grow and is there any other areas of prepared produce that you think have potential?

Sales of bean sprouts and prepared fruit are both up so we are bucking the trend. We expect prepared fruit sales will continue to rise as we add new products and expand the Good to Go range, which is doing particularly well in our little convenience Waitrose shops.