The retailer has tasting tables at six of its stores, where shoppers can sit and enjoy meat, cheese and bread with a glass of beer or wine, and is planning to introduce the concept to more stores.
Head of BWS Pierpaolo Petrassi MW told OLN: “We went on a store visit to Canary Wharf on a random Wednesday evening and the store was absolutely rammed.
“There were 40 or 50 people treating it as an on-trade area, buying a bottle from the main fixture and paying corkage. That’s a fantastic opportunity.”
Shoppers buy drinks by the glass and pick up bottles from the range which they can drink in-store when they pay a £7.50 corkage charge.
The vast Canary Wharf store has an air-conditioned wine cellar and carries the entire Waitrose range. It enjoys an affluent shopper base and features an oyster bar.
Petrassi said: “It’s not the time to do it across the whole estate, but where it is possible we will look at it. We do it where we can. Where we have put it in it has
been an amazing success.” He added: “The boundaries are blurring between on and off- trade. We thought: ‘Is a customer really going to want to sit and drink wine and have customers shop around them?’
“But people are happy for customers to move around them. It’s a great opportunity for branch partners to talk to customers and give food matchings and drinks ideas.
“It’s a hugely exciting opportunity. We will do it in our own way.”
Waitrose grew its share of the grocery market to 5.1% in the past 12 months, but it has 7.7% of the wine category, outperforming the market by 3.6% (Nielsen, year to March 2015).
It has 4% of the spirits market and 2.9% of beer, but the Nielsen figures show it is outperforming the market by 7.1% in beer.
Petrassi said: “We avoid big slab beer promotions. We would say ‘buy three bottles of something to blow you away rather than eight cans that taste of nothing’.
“In a market driven by volume it’s hard to do that. Most of the market is about three slabs for £25. We are growing by telling our customers to drink better. That’s nothing short of the stuff that the Magic Circle is famous for. It’s all credit to the marketing team and buyers, explaining how much consumers are going to enjoy craft beers.
“We have a great, attentive demographic, but the numbers speak for themselves. We are outperforming the market by not doing what everyone else does and we are hugely proud of that.”