BLOG: Waitrose, Orlando and the papaya problem

MT's editor, Matthew Gwyther, on why sneering at Waitrose is actually evidence that we're all becoming middle class.

by Matthew Gwyther
Last Updated: 06 Aug 2013

Waitrose has goofed. By venturing into the dangerous and unpredictable Wild West of Twitter-land to promote itself it has wound up being exposed to ridicule. The Guardian this morning is tickled pink by the fact that Waitrose has invited the Twatterati to respond to the question "I shop at Waitrose because…" It was asking for trouble and got it, apparently. 

Two of the barbed Twitter recommendations were that the upmarket shop was the best place to pick up unicorn food and 24ct gold thread toilet paper. Another posted: "I shop at Waitrose because it makes me feel important and I absolutely detest being surrounded by poor people." The most notable however is judged to be: "I also shop at Waitrose because I was once in the Holloway Road branch and heard a dad say 'Put the papaya down, Orlando!'"

The Guardian notes Waitrose’s response. "Thanks for all the genuine and funny #WaitroseReasons tweets. We always like to hear what you think and enjoyed reading most of them." and calls this "po-faced." Is it really? I’d say that’s more a polite "Fair cop. We all had a little laugh but we won’t be listening to that digital marketing agency in Shoreditch with their shaven heads and table football in the foyer again but sticking to those amazingly effective television ads that get the whole nation weeping when we air them at Christmas. And then, because we own the business, we’ll all be collecting our lovely bonuses which till jockeys at Lidl and Morrison can only dream of." 

The truth of the matter is that we would all, given the money and the chance, probably shop at Waitrose. I’ve experienced some of the more existentially depressing moments of my life in a Tesco Express or Sainsbury’s Local. In fact I’d go one further: given the choice I’d never set foot inside a supermarket, especially if accompanied by my small children, ever again in my life. If Ocado goes under I’ll be the first in the line of mourners, blubbing buckets at the funeral.

I’m like the good burgher of Peckham Village whose main concern (posted on the local Forum) when hearing about last year’s London riots was whether the Ocado van would be able to negotiate the blazing cars and deliver on her street. But that’s me – a bourgeois git who has a kid called Ludo rather than Orlando and is therefore worthy of The Grauniad’s sneer. (He won’t touch papaya, incidentally, despite all my entreaties.)  

Waitrose may have the last laugh in this. While M&S and Tesco stumble from crisis to crisis the John Lewis Partnership and its 81 000 partners appears to be doing rather well at the moment  The business saw a 60% jump in profits during the summer of 2012. Strong online growth helped it post an 8.6% rise in revenues to £3.9bn and profits of £144.5m in the six months to July. 

It remains the UK business many others wish to emulate in a multitude of ways, not least its ownership model. We are, it would appear, all middle class now. What’s interesting is how many responders to The Guardian story appear to love and support Waitrose. As one noted: "Wow. The Guardian excited by inverse snobbery. Who'd o’ thunk it?" 

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