David Prosser: Waitrose is shining again

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Outlook The latest data from retail analyst TNS confirms what is becoming the big story of the sector this year: the amazing performance of Waitrose. TNS reports its sales were up almost 15 per cent over the 12 weeks to the end of November – yet more proof that what was once a charming but sleepy bourgeois brand is becoming a credible challenger to the big four supermarkets.

The launch of Waitrose's Essentials value range earlier this year has proved a watershed for the grocer, though it is also set to benefit from an expansion into the convenience store sector, and from its increasing number of outlets in motorway service stations. No wonder its managing director, Mark Price, is being tipped as the front-runner in the race to succeed Marc Bolland, who has just left Morrisons to take the top job at Marks & Spencer.

In fact, Mr Price's example is one that everyone in the retail sector – including M&S itself – could do with following. The recession, food price deflation and the rise of the discounters have been easy scapegoats for retailers to blame when announcing flat figures this year. Waitrose has proved that even in a recession, expansion doesn't have to be the preserve of budget operators.