Waitrose can not boast the market share of a Tesco or an Asda, but does boast a clearly defined customer base and steady growth. If your title fits the store’s brand, then Waitrose represents an exciting channel for you. Andrea Kirkby looks at the brand, the ethos and the opportunities for magazine publishers.

By Andrea Kirkby

Waitrose has done well to differentiate itself strongly from other supermarkets. It has a tighter, more defined range of product, with a focus on high quality food and up-market products. Its customers are more defined, too.

Upmarket demographic

Research group TNS found that Waitrose has a market share of 6.6 percent in the highest earning managerial and professional demographic. That’s nearly double its overall market share and contrasts with a share of just 2.2 percent for unskilled workers.

Verdict research bears this out, showing Waitrose as having the highest proportions of shoppers from the professional A and B classes – 47 percent, with the next highest being Sainsbury’s at 34 percent and Marks & Spencer at 22 percent.

Waitrose is growing handily, too. Its gross sales rose 13 percent last year, to £3.3 billion, making it the fastest growing supermarket in the UK. That includes the acquisition of several stores from Morrisons and Somerfield, and expansion into Scotland and the north of England. But even on a like-for-like basis, sales rose 4 percent. And the store’s making a good profit, contributing £170.4 million to parent company John Lewis’s annual profit.

It’s still a small player though, with 3.9 percent market share overall compared to the leaders, Tesco at 29 percent and Asda at nearly 16 percent. The stores are often quite small, too, compared to the majors – while a typical Tesco supermarket is 31,000 square feet, the average Waitrose is only two third of that size at 19,900 square feet.

Nicola Rowe of the Periodical Publishers Association points out that Waitrose’s market share in magazines is even lower than its share of the grocery market overall. It sells only 0.9 percent of magazines, against Tesco which had 11.4 percent market share in 2005. That puts the store on a par with Tesco Expess, Spar, and Somerfield, all with 1-2 percent shares, and just ahead of the declining Woolworths.

But Nicola Rowe says that, though this is a small share, "year on year it did show a bit of growth, so it’s heading in the right direction." And that’s still about £18 million in total retail sales value (based on the PPA’s numbers for 2005) – a sizable market for publishers to address. Furthermore, according to Waitrose’s Jess Hughes, "Our current share of the magazine market (within the grocery market) is 4.7 percent. This figure is higher than our overall grocery market share (3.9 percent). Although our share of the magazine market overall is relatively small, this figure does demonstrate that magazines are an area in which Waitrose over-trades."

Points of differentiation

Because of its differentiation, Waitrose needs a different approach from other supermarkets. Waitrose as an overall business is pretty clear who its customers are, and so it is a very clear sell-in for publishers, as the title has to match that thinking. Upmarket publications, and those focused on women’s interests and lifestyle, do well – particularly monthlies.

But a number of celebrity weeklies are also ranged, and do sell. Obviously the well heeled customer still wants to find out what Jade Goody is up to. And Nicola Rowe says that while Waitrose is strongly differentiated in some ways, in others it conforms to overall market trends. "Waitrose follows the same logic as the other supermarkets, that the women’s weeklies will be strong – they’re not bucking the trend there."

Owen Arnot, at Severn Publishing, agrees that targeting Waitrose needs care. "Waitrose is a more targeted supermarket," he says, "both in terms of its core consumer, and because they have less space with the smaller square footage at most of its stores." So publishers need to consider how well their titles fit with the Waitrose demographic and the Waitrose style.

Which titles sell / which don’t

Christina Hartley, marketing services director at Marketforce, which works closely with Waitrose, picks out a number of specific titles that do well. As one might expect, countryside titles such as The Field and Country Life do well. So does Good Housekeeping, selling to the older age group within the customer base, and the BBC Good Food magazine.

But Waitrose sells relatively few men’s interest titles, she says – partly perhaps to protect the brand. A focus on good food and the healthy lifestyle might not sit too well with the lads’ mags.

Owen Arnot says that "while Waitrose has a sophisticated female range, male magazines are weaker compared to the Sainsburys and Tescos." He isn't expecting Waitrose to follow Tesco’s expansion of the male interest range; Delicious magazine, he thinks, fits both the Waitrose customer and the Waitrose brand, while some of the lads’ mags just don’t hit the right buttons.

The range as a whole can be characterised as ‘small and tight’, and is certainly one of the smaller ranges at a major supermarket chain. Christina Hartley says it numbers about 300 titles in total. It seems unlikely that the range will expand very greatly in the near term.

But Christina Hartley warns that publishers shouldn't confuse the rate of growth in the range with the rate of growth in retail sales value. "I don't think their actual range has expanded that much, but in terms of revenue, they’re performing brilliantly – one of the best outlets we’ve got", she enthuses. Sales rose 23 percent from June to August – and that rate of growth had accelerated from 17 percent earlier in the year.

Waitrose has achieved growth partly through volumes, but also through raising the average cover price. Naturally, with a relatively wealthy customer base, Waitrose can push glossier and more expensive magazines. The supermarket bases its strategy on quality, not price – it doesn't publicise price cuts and special offers in the way that other supermarkets do – and so this fits the product strategy for the store as a whole, too.

Space issues

One constraint on the growth of the range is lack of space. Christina Hartley believes the magazine sector has a good argument for more space given its strong growth. She says that although Waitrose is mainly focused on grocery, "magazines are the non-food bit that Waitrose does best," and that has the best fit with its grocery business. Other non-food is mainly convenience focused – there’s no clothing range and little in the way of entertainment products... (In the interim report last year, the chairman, Sir Stuart Hampson, referred to an increase in non-food space at some of the larger stores, but said "We remain firmly focused on being food specialists.")

Placement & Promotions

Placement is also an issue. A number of stores now have magazines close to the entrance, but there is no single layout. Christina Hartley says that "magazines do better at the front of the store," but not all outlets position their racks there. She’s hoping that front-of-store positions for the magazine racks will become an increasing trend.

Promotional opportunities for individual magazines are not particularly great. Waitrose’s strategy has always been not to allow other brands to shout too loudly. Even its own brand is relatively understated compared to the ubiquity of, say, Tesco’s branding in its outlets. Magazines really need to sell themselves off the cover – point of sale is not going to be very welcome.

However, Christina Hartley says that magazines are now infiltrating other parts of the stores. For instance, Decanter magazine is being placed in the wine area. "It works well for them," she says, "and it works well for us. In fact it even looks as if it’s a Waitrose brand." Titles which have strong links with particular aspects of the food and drink offering in-store might well consider similar promotional opportunities.

Data deficiencies?

One area where Waitrose does appear to fall behind is in the use of loyalty cards. Since it shares its card with John Lewis, the supermarket doesn't have a clear idea of its customers’ spend specifically within Waitrose. The customer database might not therefore be quite as sophisticated as, say, Tesco’s – and that means the company is not getting such good information on customers’ buying habits. Unlike Tesco, it’s not able to share its data easily with distributors, either.

And publishers might be anxious about the fact that one of Waitrose’s top selling magazines is its own – Waitrose Food Illustrated. This isn't just any old contract published customer magazine – its stories receive widespread media attention, and it won the 2005 APA award for the most effective consumer publication. John Brown Citrus Publishing is clearly doing an excellent job with this title – but is it competing with the other food orientated magazines on the racks?

In fact, publishers probably shouldn't worry unduly. Though the magazine has a circulation of over 300,000, paid circulation is only a few thousand – just a couple of percent of copies being actively purchased. So, the presence of the Waitrose magazine is probably not a disincentive to sales of other similar magazines – though it does influence the buyer’s thinking about ranging other titles.


Waitrose is not the powerhouse of magazine sales that Tesco has become. It probably isn't going to grow its range of titles dramatically in the near future, and the rate of addition of new branches may tail off now that Morrisons and Somerfield have trimmed down. (None the less, the chain is apparently targeting well over 200 branches within four years, up from 184 now, so there should still be enough growth to satisfy most suppliers.)

But on the plus side, Waitrose has tight customer focus and strong branding – much stronger than some of the other supermarkets, which have to be all things to all shoppers. And, although it’s starting from a low base, it’s getting good rates of growth – particularly for the higher cover price monthlies.

So, it’s easy for a publisher to work out which magazines will sell well through this outlet. Titles which fit the Waitrose style should do well – and titles which don't will probably not get as far as the racks. That makes Waitrose a prime opportunity for publishers.

As Christina Hartley says, "There’s growth happening now that every appropriate publisher should be trying to get on the back of."