Editor's comment: Waitrose's value proposition

What will Waitrose's customers make of the supermarket's decision to launch a lower-priced range to rival Tesco Value and Sainsbury's Basic offerings? Will the Essential line cheapen the brand? Waitrose's managing director, Mark Price, is keen that the 1400-strong range is not seen as a value line. Instead, he calls it 'affordable'.

He may be cross with me for saying this, but I'm not sure there is a difference. They both communicate the same idea. Moreover, will this positioning convince Price's staple of middle-class customers that he is not taking Waitrose downmarket, so they don't decamp to Marks & Spencer in protest?

If they did, they may not find much difference. Last week M&S began a high-profile campaign to highlight its value range. One can't move in its food halls without coming across labels declaring that a product is a 'Wise Buy'. M&S has also begun aggressively discounting in the lunchtime market with its offer of a £2 'meal deal'.

A plethora of opinion pieces over the past year have given reasons why brands should not do exactly what Waitrose and M&S are doing, which is perhaps why both are going out of their way to remind consumers that these 'value' brands are not a compromise on quality.

Branding experts claim that when the downturn becomes an upturn, the damage done to their premium brands will leave them weakened.

These opinions are all well and good, except that no one knows how long the recession will be. Brands, particularly retailers, have to react quickly. Attempting to maintain a premium identity while simultaneously promoting a value message is tricky, but Waitrose and M&S are only doing what they have to in this market. In any case, it is unlikely to damage their brand in the future.

Lucy.Barrett@haymarket.com.

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