Aisle Spy

How is Waitrose evolving its premium range?

The supermarket’s chef and product development teams were sent around the world to suss out the best suppliers and ingredients for its new No.1 products.

3 October 2019
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Own-label sales are booming – the sector is worth £56.8bn, up 4.6% in 2018, according to Kantar data. It’s not just in store either, with sales of own label online rising 4.7% to £3.9bn.

It’s a lucrative area for the supermarkets, as it’s not only a tool to differentiate themselves from the crowded market, but also means they can develop products that wouldn’t work in a branded context, particularly on the fresh and chilled side, according to Christine Cross, who was previously responsible for Tesco’s Finest range.

“The level of innovation in own label, coupled with the ability to work with smaller and more flexible suppliers, gives own label a natural advantage over brands,” she told Food Spark’s sister site The Grocer. “Own label can charge premium prices, adding higher margins to a category that has always been low margin in the past.”

It’s no wonder, then, that Waitrose’s biggest launch this year is an update to the supermarket’s premium range, No.1. The retailer aims to add some restaurant flair to home-cooked meals with a focus on small, specialist suppliers. It sees 150 new products hit stores and another 80 updated and improved.

The entire range will feature over 740 products across all categories, with a focus on flavours such as truffle, nduja and burrata. It has been created by Waitrose chefs and the product development team, with each person focusing on a specific category.

“Our No.1 range is the perfect way to showcase the most interesting and top quality flavours and ingredients we have to offer,” said Natalie Mitchell, head of product innovation and own brand at Waitrose. “By taking traditional ingredients and recipes and elevating them to be the best they can be, we want our customers to feel like chefs in their own home with this exciting range of products.”

So what’s new to the range?

Playing with pizzas

A quest for the perfect flour saw Zoe Simons, senior development chef, travelling around Italy, where she found the fine Caputo 00 to make the new 48-hour sourdough base for the No.1 pizza range. 

“We travelled to the best pizza restaurants in Italy to make sure we were getting the most authentic and delicious ingredients for our new pizza range,” she commented. “A firm favourite became our new limited-edition nduja and burrata pizza. These are some of the most popular flavours we have seen and the spicy nduja and creamy burrata bring a restaurant quality dish to you at home.”

The Wood-Fired ‘Nduja & Burrata Sourdough Pizza (£6) is hand-stretched and made with tomato sauce using ripe Italian tomatoes from Emilia-Romagna, extra virgin olive oil and basil. The pizza is then topped with shaved mozzarella cheese, nduja, burrata, chargrilled red peppers and fresh parsley. 

But if you don’t fancy pizza, it’s also available in a pasta kit.

The range also includes another limited edition: Wood-Fired Mushroom & Truffle Sourdough Pizza (£6), with a salsa truffina bechamel sauce, roasted portobello and chestnut mushrooms, creamy mascarpone and fresh parsley. Again, the ingredients can also be used via a pasta kit.

Regional Italian has been playing out in the restaurant scene with Officina 00 launching a flour-led menu with a host of pasta varieties, along with others like Maremma, Circolo Poplare and Berto, while even street food have got in on the act with Camden Market opening Italian Alley.

Sausages and salami

New to Waitrose for the first time are a selection of whole saucissons (thick, dry cured sausages) and salami. 

On her sausage search, product developer Simona Cohen-Vida worked closely with family-run companies in France and Italy, who have generations of experience in producing the perfect cured sausage, she said. 

“We travelled to the Aveyron region, in southwest France in order to meet fourth generation farmers who are world renowned for making some of the best saucissons,” she explained. “We wanted to develop classic flavours so we decided on truffle and walnut. They use the best quality pork and pieces of summer truffles and whole walnuts to infuse the meat and get a depth of flavour which is unique to us at Waitrose.”

Products that made the cut include the Whole Perigord Walnut Saucisson Sec (£5.00), a medium coarse French salami with Perigord walnuts from the Dordogne region, and the Whole Summer Truffle Saucisson Sec (£5.00), made with pork and matured in a natural casing.

Ready meals to easy cooking

Danny Butt, senior development chef, ended up exploring the Middle East to find the best recipe for the No.1 Moussaka.

“We wanted to make sure our whole range of ready meals are as authentic and delicious as possible,” he said. “When we explored the Middle East it was clear to see that fantastic quality ingredients was the unifying factor in all the moussakas we tried. Our lamb is slow cooked for eight hours with red wine and cinnamon to create a depth of flavour renowned in the best moussakas. It is then topped with potato, aubergine, bechamel sauce and topped with salty Greek feta cheese to create an indulgent meal without the hassle.”

India, meanwhile, provided inspiration for the Venison Cutlets with Mango & Turmeric Yoghurt (£39.99/kg), seasoned with tamarind, ginger, cumin and coriander, served with spiced yogurt. 

For the first time, Waitrose is using raw fish in its fish pie, so that it is cooked for the first time when it goes into a home oven.

From accompaniments to desserts

Other highlights from the range include Mexican Yucatan Honey (£2.99), which is made by bees that forage on the Yucatan Peninsula, creating a rich fruity flavour with smoky notes. Even more up market is the Cut Comb in Acacia Honey (£6.99) where the natural cut comb slice comes straight from the frame and is placed into the jar by hand, then immersed in acacia honey. 

Waitrose is also hoping to find sweet success with its Coconut, Passion Fruit and White Chocolate Layer Cakes (£4 for two), with coconut mousse, white chocolate, passion fruit jelly, crispy almonds and almond sponge, as well as the Single Origin Dominican Republic Milk Chocolate with Coconut and Lime (£2), made with cocoa beans sourced from the Dominican Republic.

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