Waitrose reacts to shifting trends in Canary Wharf
What does a Canary Wharf worker munch during the crunch?
As branch manager of Canada Place mall supermarket Waitrose Food and Home, Russell Cattell has noticed changes in what turns up in the shopping baskets of the 80,000 customers that wander through each week.
He said: "It's been a challenging year. People are without doubt trading down and treading more carefully, and the Wharf has lost some people, particularly in the banking sector.
"Sales of larger items such as fridges and big TVs have been pretty flat, because those are the sort of things you'd associate with moving house. It's probably in the home area that we've been hit the hardest, but in the wider picture we've held up remarkably well.
"At the moment, people are mostly buying sandwiches and snack products. We've seen people buying less top-end stuff.
"If you take wines, people moved away from items such as Champagne and wine up to £600 a bottle. But in the last month or so, we've started to see the transaction levels going up again in the cellar. I'm not saying it's a green shoot situation, but it's interesting.
"The most buoyant areas have been the patisserie and deli counters. They've seen very little change.
"It typifies for me that people are just being much more careful about how they spend their money. When I arrived here just over a year ago, that didn't seem to be an issue."
Waitrose's Canary Wharf branch is by no means alone in noticing a shift. Some Canary
Wharf shops have already encountered financial difficulties, and Waitrose's parent company The John Lewis Partnership announced a 26.4 per cent drop in pre-tax profit for the year.
The £279.6million profit is £100.2million lower than last year, but the £127.4million sale of Ocado boosted that figure to £407million.
Staff received a 13 per cent bonus this year, compared to 20 per cent last year. But the chain is cutting its prices with the launch of its Essential Waitrose line, which will see 1,000 items reduced and 400 new ones appear.
Mr Cattell said: "A thousand products are being re-badged, but there's no compromise on the recipes.
"Many of our competitors have compromised the quality of their products. We haven't done that."
Aside from the home department, another section feeling the crunch pinch has been the Steak and Oyster bar.
Mr Cattrell said: "When the chefs have talked to some of the people they haven't seen as frequently, they've said that workers have been encouraged not to use their business credit cards for external dining, and advised to eat in the company's own dining areas.
"Businesses are challenging where money is spent. The Steak and Oyster bar and the wine cellar have seen a slowdown over the last year, but it's bottomed out and there are some signs of customers returning."
The changing environment has prompted closer scrutiny on staffing levels, and some management roles have been combined in recent months.
Mr Cattell said: "We've trimmed back the number of managers in the branch.
"No one has lost their job at a management level, but we do make sure we have a lean, well-oiled machine.
"Where we've lost people we've reduced hours and or amalgamated positions. Two department managers have gone on to other work, and their colleagues have taken on their responsibilities."
Canary Wharf's Waitrose reportedly has more than double the footfall of an average store, but the average spend is around £7 or £8 a time, around half of conventional branches.
The store's highest turnover occurs on Sunday, but Mr Cattell admits that this has been affected by DLR and Jubilee weekend maintenance works.
While he admits large stores can be "impersonal", he is keen to create "a big store with a small store mentality".
He said: "We always make sure customers are taken to a shelf instead of just being pointed there. Every customer is an opportunity. We describe the shop floor as a stage and we should engage with as many customers as possible."
Even during the downturn, the store's management is planning changes in-store in future.
He said: "In Canary Wharf, we're looking into selling a teenage range of clothing and back to school lines.
"In the beginning, we didn't think there were enough schoolchildren in the area to justify it, but we believe there's a market for it now.
"We're also making sure the home range is right for the market. We had lots of ceiling lights when I got here a year ago and now we're going more for lamps and ready-made lights as opposed to crystal chandeliers, which aren't really as trendy.
"We hope to have a re-fit next year. The branch will be seven years old this year, and were it not for the downturn we probably would have had it this year. It's going to be a major facelift, re-fitting some of the shop floor and changing the layout.
"KPMG is due to move into the Wharf soon, and we're looking to be more efficient so people don't have to walk to the other end of the shop to get food or coffee. But none of this has been finalised yet. It's at the thinking stage."