Marks & Spencer has copied some of Waitrose’s most popular items and developed 750 new ones in an attempt to stop shoppers abandoning Ocado when it swaps its partnership as part of a £750 million deal due to begin in September.
Ocado announced last year that it had cut ties with Waitrose after 19 years – to sign with the middle-class favourite’s arch-rivals Marks & Spencer.
About 4,670 M&S products appeared on Ocado’s website yesterday, three weeks before the official start of their joint venture on September 1.
In order to stave off a potential exodus, M&S set up an ‘Ocado readiness’ team and its food development team carried out 42 reviews of its ranges to ensure that it could offer a direct match to Waitrose’s products in terms of their flavour, ingredients, price and size, including a near identical vegetarian pizza and dark Seville marmalade.
The product development team said that most of its work has been in replicating the larger packets Waitrose offered to cater to weekly shoppers.
In response, M&S now sells large blocks of cheddar and 450g bags of green beans in additional to the 100g bags of microwavable vegetables it typically sells in stores to appeal to solo dinners looking for a quick evening meal.
The product matching had even gone as far as replicating a mushroom, feta and spinach pizza after Ocado’s customer data showed it was the best selling Waitrose product and that customers would not be satisfied with the M&S chargrilled vegetables alternative.
Other items listed on the site which are almost identical include a jar of dark Seville marmalade and a pack of 300g organic beef meatballs.
The business has also added 150 organic products and ramped up its vegan ranges.
Many of the M&S products either match Waitrose’s price point or cost slightly less than the supermarket’s offerings.
M&S has never had a delivery service before but launched their Deliveroo service to help families in lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Customers are now able to place orders for M&S products for delivery slots in September using Ocado.
When the deal between M&S and Ocado was announced in February last year, there were questions about how suitable it would be for family weekly shops.
M&S is set to pay Ocado £750million for a 50% share of the new venture, when Ocado’s deal to supply Waitrose products expires.
The £600million cash call on its shareholders will bring its ready meals and other food hall items in a £1.5billion deal with Ocado.
But many shoppers were not pleased that Ocado’s deal would change amid coronavirus concerns and uncertainty.
Archie Norman, 66, the chairman of M&S, said that he was prepared for some customers to quit Ocado and switch to Waitrose.
He said: ‘There will be some fallout of Waitrose customers for such. Do I think there are some Waitrose products that they really like? Well every brand has some loyalists.’
Mr Norman believes the boom in demand for online deliveries during the pandemic means that there will not have to be such a vicious battle at the start.
He said: ‘We would have had to pedal like mad to build up a customer base but now we will have a soft start. We won’t have to plaster posters on buses.’
Only 40 of M&S 1,000 food stores offer its full grocery range because the majority of its shops are small Simply Food convenience ranges but will be replacing Waitrose’s range of 4,000 on Ocado with 6,000 food items and adding 1,600 clothing items.
Mel Smith, 46, chief executive of Ocado Retail, said she was aware of the challenge M&S faced in getting the range of groceries right.
She said: ‘I even had a group of friends, mums in Chiswick, say “How dare you do this to me” but now I’ve won them around, particularly with our work on organic and gluten free ranges and we’re 100 per cent sure we have more range than we did before.’