Waitrose boss departs amid Channel 4 rumours
New boss Rob Collins is a 22-year veteran of the John Lewis Partnership
Waitrose's managing director Mark Price has stepped down "to spend more time with his television", says the BBC's business editor Kamal Ahmed.
Price, who is 55, is already deputy chairman of the commercial public service broadcaster Channel 4. According to Ahmed, after nine years heading up Waitrose – and 33 with its parent company – the John Lewis Partnership, the former Waitrose MD now has his sights set on the job of chairman at Channel 4 when Lord Burns retires in January.
Price's time in charge of the supermarket is widely seen as a resounding success – the store "has enjoyed many years of rapid growth", says the BBC, and outperformed the market for "76 months in a row". Despite its first annual fall in sales for seven years this year (see below), Waitrose still reported a seven per cent rise in customers and increased market share.
The Guardian reports that the man who will replace him, Rob Collins, is similarly a John Lewis veteran who spent 22 years with the partnership after joining as a graduate trainee in 1993. The son of former Dixons chairman Sir John Collins, he has worked in a number of the group's department stores and joined Waitrose as head of e-commerce in 2007.
Nick Bubb, an independent retail analyst, described the low-profile Collins as "affable, although I can’t say I know him that well". He added: "It's not going to be easy for Rob to make his mark. Cost control was good in the first half of last year, but God knows there is a lot more he can do on that."
Waitrose sales fall for first time in seven years
Sales at Waitrose have dropped for the first time in seven years, despite customer numbers and market share continuing to increase, as the effects of falling prices and more fragmented shopping habits feed into falling revenues.
The Financial Times reports like-for-like sales in shops open at least a year fell by 1.3 per cent over the six months to 1 August, which the paper said was a "sign of the intense competition raging among supermarkets, falling prices and changing customer shopping patterns". The supermarket, which has been enjoying success with a "choose your own offer" initiative, continues to take market share from its rivals and customer number rose by seven per cent compared to the same period in 2014.
The decline in sales is the first time in seven years Waitrose has failed to record an annual increase, Sky News notes. It was also broadly offset in wider results for its parent, employee-owned John Lewis Partnership, which saw revenues remain flat as department store sales increased three per cent, primarily as a result of a surge on online purchases.
But the mutual still recorded a sizeable 26 per cent decline in half-year profits to £96.7m, which it said was the result of a further £60m hit related to its pension fund, which is currently in deficit to the tune of £1.2bn. It lowered full year profit guidance by a similar sum, predicting it will report earnings of £270m and £320m compared with £342.7m last year.
Chairman Sir Charlie Mayfield, warned conditions in the market "will remain difficult", pointing to likely further food price deflation. "However, I expect sales in both Waitrose and John Lewis to perform comparatively well against the market, helped by promising new ranges and online capability."