Waitrose heralds death of out-of-town supermarkets

Big stores are out and convenience is in, according to Waitrose boss Mark Price. And watch out for the rise of the 'flexitarians'.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 22 Oct 2014

As if Tesco needed any more bad news, all those vast out-of-town megastores it built are apparently out of date. At least that's the opinion of Waitrose boss Mark Price, talking to the Telegraph ahead of the launch of the high-end supermarket's second annual Food and Drink Report today.

The big four have been building stores that reflect 'the old world' of consumer behaviour, Price said. 'They have an estate for how people shopped two decades ago.' Ouch.

Time-poor shoppers, Price said, are abandoning suburban behemoths for snappier convenience stories in a 'once in 50 to 60 year' change as important as the first appearance of supermarkets in the 1950s 'People are buying food for now,' he said. 'The notion that you are going to go and push a trolley around for the week is a thing of the past.'

This isn't exactly a revelation, of course. The rise of the express urban supermarket at the expense of the superstore has been clear for some time. To infer that the trend tends towards a total reformation of our shopping habits, however, may be a bit premature.

Four in ten people may visit a convenience store at least once a day, as Waitrose's report says, but does this mean in the future shoppers will only use convenience stores? For all we know, we could be relying on robot slaves for shopping in twenty years' time (or indeed doing all the shopping for our robot masters in dank, efficient warehouses).

While making weekly trips to the supermarket may not suit the iPhone generation's desire for spontaneity and convenience, it's fundamentally more efficient to buy in bulk and suits the ever increasing retired population. Not everyone can be skinny latte and croissant on the go - some people will always be cornflakes.

The findings of the Waitrose report also do not paint a full picture of British shopping habits. Of course it found that more people used convenience stores. It analysed the habits of customers at its own shops, and more of its shops than ever before are pint-sized, with the firm well on the way to its target of 21 new 'Little Waitrose' stores opening in 2014.  

There may be another reason to take the Waitrose report with a pinch of traditionally-mined Himalayan salt, too. It's just possible that its findings reflect a certain... middle England bias. For instance, it said British shoppers are getting more international, being four times more likely to buy a Katsu curry kit than a Tikka Masala.

Coffee liquour sales, meanwhile, spiked 15% as coffee martinis made their way onto the dinner party circuit, while there's apparently been a marked rise in 'flexitarianism' - meat eaters deliberately choosing non-meat meals.

'Three things remain constant,' the report boasted, its authors apparently having never seen a Friday night kebab van queue in Bolton, 'Britons' culinary curiosity, their love of good food and their desire to eat healthily'. Maybe the Britons who shop at Waitrose anyway.

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