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Waitrose reports sales surge after avoiding horsemeat scandal

Category : Business

Supermarket says it is winning shoppers from Tesco after no horse DNA was found in its products

Unlike many of its rivals, Waitrose has benefited from the clean bill of health it was given during the horsemeat scandal, with the upmarket retailer reporting an 11% boost in sales in the past three months.

The company, which was unaffected by the appearance of horse DNA in any of its products, said customers trusted the stores over its competitors and that it had been winning shoppers from Tesco – one of the worst-affected grocers.

The managing director, Mark Price, said: “I think we’re a business that has got a heart and soul, which we haven’t lost through the economic downturn, and we want to help our customers while being true to our principles.

“There are moral issues in some of the ways things are produced and customers may not have as much money in their pockets, but want to know now more than ever where their meat has come from and that it has been treated fairly.”

Fresh meat sales increased 12% over the last three months, with prepacked beef sales up 15%. Customers topped 5 million over the quarter for the first time in the supermarket’s history, along with a 50% rise in online grocery sales, which are now worth £300m a year.

Although no horsemeat was found in Waitrose products, the company did discover pork in some of its beef meatballs. Price admitted: “That was embarrassing and we ended that relationship with the supplier. But we’ve since launched our own frozen processing plant, so we know exactly what goes into our food.”

The new factory will open next month and it means several frozen meat lines have been taken off Waitrose shelves as bosses wait for the new site to open.

The company, part of the John Lewis Partnership, now sources all its beef from the UK, including in its ready meals, sandwiches and fresh mince.

Waitrose corned beef is also being produced in the UK for the first time, after its rival Asda found the horse drug phenylbutazone – or bute – in its own-brand corned beef. This week Waitrose also announced that all fish would come from independently certified sustainable sources within three years.

According to the latest Kantar Worldpanel retail data, Waitrose’s market share grew to 4.9% in April, compared with 4.5% last year, gaining customers faster than Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons combined.

Price also believes one of the biggest causes of a shift to Waitrose has been the company’s price promise, matching Tesco on 7,000 items and also beating Sainsbury’s on some products.

He said: “We are less expensive than we were perhaps historically, but I think customers are now realising we match Tesco and in many cases beat Sainsbury’s on price. Also, some of the basic lines we sell are better quality than Tesco finest.”

Last year Waitrose sales were up 6.7% to £5.76bn, with an operating profit of £292.3m, up 12.2%. It led to staff earning a 17% bonus.

With Waitrose’s online service continuing to grow, it could end its exclusive product relationship with Ocado after it was revealed that the online grocer was in discussions with rival Morrisons over launching a delivery service.