Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Waitrose: a wolf in sheep's clothing?

Last year, the press carried warnings about Waitrose's ambitions: here, in the Guardian, for example. Last month, Waitrose,the food retailing arm of the John Lewis Partnership, announced plans to open up to 100 smaller format stores in market towns up and down the country.
Apparently, these will "reflect the ambience of the traditional grocery shop." How sweet: how very Waitrose.

Ok, so Waitrose have a deserved reputation for treating their suppliers fairly: and they're really nice people who share their profits with their workers, but this move exposes a clear ambition to push directly into the domain of the independent food retailer. As the Federation for Small Businesses says: " other supermarkets, it does seem hell bent on doing everything the butcher, baker and florist does in the local high street".

The only difference between supermarkets is the name and the scale. At their heart they're all the same: they want more customers and they don't care who gets wiped out to get them.
Now, does anyone know a market town which just happens to have a plot of land available for redevelopment? Ah, yes. That would be Darlington, wouldn't it?

Now, of course, I don't know if anything is going on - but then we didn't know about the Tesco negotiations for years, did we? But now that Waitrose has made its ambitions and strategy public knowledge, hopefully if any formal discussions take place, we'll be kept informed.

Believe me: nice people and nice shops they might be, and I'm sure the good people of the West End will welcome them with open arms, but if Waitrose open in our town centre you can kiss goodbye to any plans there might be to make the Indoor Market into a specialist food-oriented destination. In fact, you might just kiss goodbye to those very businesses we campaigned so hard to protect when Tesco loomed over us a couple of years ago!

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