Things may be bleak for the big four supermarkets, but for the smaller, challenger, businesses initial signs are that Christmas was a real cracker.
Waitrose has topped off a strong year, in which it had grown market share to five per cent by December, according to its Christmas figures published today.
The John Lewis Partnership-owned premium supermarket grew total sales by seven per cent year-on-year to £728m over the five weeks to January 3. Like-for-like sales at the 334-store business rose 2.8 per cent.
As with the wider group, online sales powered much of this growth, with grocery sales through waitrose.com rising by 26.3 per cent, while wines, flowers and hampers grew 39.9 per cent.
Managing director Mark Price said: “This strong sales performance in a tough trading environment is a tribute to all our partners who work so hard to give the high quality products and outstanding service that customers want all year round and especially at Christmas.
“As a business owned by the people who work here, we can take the long-term view and our Christmas results show the effectiveness of our strategy of investing in good value, in making our shops attractive destinations and in building our online business.
To support its online growth, the supermarket is opening a new fulfilment centre in Coulsdon, south London, on March 3, which will employ 450 people. Its existing centre, in Acton, west London, is undergoing consultation over a proposed closure.
The new centre will have “twice the capacity of Acton”, and so there will be “enough employment opportunities for all Acton partners”, Waitrose said.
The distance between the two locations is just over 21 miles, and takes around an hour to travel.
Despite this partners have a strong incentive to stay - at least until John Lewis Partnership reveals its results, as every partner receives a bonus equivalent to the profit increase. Last year that was 15 per cent of their total salary; the year before it was 17 per cent.