Waitrose boss eyes ‘big opportunity’ as it splits with Ocado

The boss of Waitrose has said the upmarket grocer sees its split from delivery partner Ocado as a “big opportunity” as it looks to tempt customers on to its own platform.

The supermarket chain was dealt a major headache last February when Ocado said it would launch a new £1.5 billion delivery partnership with Marks & Spencer and bring its 20-year relationship with Waitrose to a close next month.

But recently-appointed Waitrose executive director James Bailey said it has enabled the company to shake up its “potentially undervalued” online operations during a period of rapidly growing demand for grocery deliveries.

“I genuinely see this as a big opportunity,” Mr Bailey told the PA news agency.

James Bailey
James Bailey

“It provides an important time for change, and maybe there have been some old-fashioned habits which we can shift with this renewed focus.

“There has been a little history of underplaying online and I feel like this year has changed everything.

“Covid has come at a positive time for the Waitrose business in terms of this shift towards online.”

Online grocery sales have continued to surge since the lockdown, with online accounting for a record 13.5% of all grocery shopping in the four weeks to August 9, according to Kantar.

Waitrose has said it is eyeing new partnerships with third-party delivery operators, with it launching a trial with Deliveroo from five stores on Tuesday.

The supermarket chain’s parent, the John Lewis Partnership, has said it will place greater focus on online growth as it pushes forward with a strategic review.

The new Waitrose boss, who joined in April, is part of a fresh leadership team at the John Lewis Partnership, alongside chair Dame Sharon White and Pippa Wicks, the new boss at the John Lewis department store business.

Mr Bailey, who was previously grocery buying director at Sainsbury’s, said the business’s “commitment to quality will not change” as it assesses its long-term growth strategy.

Coronavirus
Coronavirus

“The message to customers is that our website is the only place to get our high-quality products, our Duchy Originals and the range they want,” he said.

“We are confident in the quality of what we sell so we just have to make sure our operations work in a way to get them to as many customers as possible.”

Waitrose has committed £100 million to expanding its online operations, with a new fulfilment centre in London and recruitment push for new drivers.

It will pick items from stores, enabling it to service around 90% of UK postcodes due to its 330 stores nationwide.