Waitrose enjoys record Christmas as shoppers stock up on affordable luxury

Exclusive Heston range helped make seven-day runup to Christmas ‘complete blowout’, says managing director

Waitrose has revealed “record” Christmas sales, including a stellar seven-day runup to Christmas Eve.

Mark Price, managing director of the upmarket grocer, said shoppers had responded to a “magic formula” of lower prices, more promotions featuring brands such as Duchy Originals and exclusive ranges such as Heston, created by the celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal.

Like-for-like sales were ahead by 4.3% in the seven weeks to 24 December but in the final seven days that trend accelerated to 7.3%. “We had a huge surge right at the end,” said Price. “It was a record trading period but the seven days before Christmas were a complete blowout.”

The employee-owned supermarket chain, part of the John Lewis Partnership, has enjoyed a strong run in recent years, thanks to new stores and pricing initiatives designed to shake off its reputation for being expensive. Price said its promise to match Tesco’s prices on grocery brands as well as the decision to run additional special offers had convinced shoppers they could afford to do a greater percentage of their weekly shop with the chain.

“More promotions, brand price match and our Essential Waitrose range mean that customers feel confident about our prices,” said Price. Bestsellers over the holiday included Heston desserts such as the hidden sauce figgy pudding and chocolate Christmas cake.

Total UK food sales are falling as hard-up Britons buy less to offset inflation in their shopping basket – but Price said Waitrose’s volumes had increased by nearly 6% over the period, with customer numbers up 4.5%. Online grocery sales also saw dramatic growth, with sales through Waitrose.com up 37%.

Price predicted Waitrose, as well as the discounters Aldi and Lidl, would emerge as winners from the hard-fought Christmas trading period. “The market is polarising, with brands at the opposite ends of the spectrum, who are offering something different, doing well.”

He added that consumer confidence had “felt less good” than a year ago, with customers eager to feel “they were getting good value”, which was not the same as items being cheaper, he said.

“Food is an affordable luxury – we were selling whole frozen lobsters for £6.99, which most people, if they wanted to, could spend at Christmas,” said Price. “Food is a way of being indulgent if you can’t afford to be indulgent in other ways.”

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