Waitrose & Partners Weekend Issue 628

2 8 DECEMBER 2022 News&Views The build-up to the festive season is always an extremely busy time for supermarkets, as a candid newprogramme aboutWaitrose reveals. Emma Higginbotham reports A CHRISTMAS LOOK BEHIND THE SCENES A MAGICAL TIME Waitrose at Christmas features (clockwise from left): Zoë Simons, festive zz, in-store displays, Patrick Okari and new food, including cheese and ’nduja pro teroles From taste-testing the Christmas food in sweltering summer heat to battling the elements to grow grapes for festive fizz, it takes months of hard work to prepare for the busiest shopping period. Now a Channel 4 special takes viewers behind closed doors as teams atWaitrose gear up for the big event, whether it’s planning the all-important Christmas advert, designing 4,000miles of recyclable wrapping paper, or ensuring that the sprouts-on-stalks arrive in good time. Called Waitrose at Christmas, the idea came about when Partner and development chef Zoë Simons, who helps dreamup the stu ng balls with amelting bread sauce centre – to getting them signed o . “We’re like the 007s of the food world,” she says. “No one knows we exist, but we are constantly thinking about Christmas. Nothing just lands up on the shelf accidentally – there’s an entire teambehind it pushing it forward, and hopefully ending up with something our customers love.” At theWaitrose design centre, Partner and point of salemanager Aisling Bourne is seen working on festive displays in July, and taking the head designer on an early autumn ‘store walk’. “Every year, we decorate a store on a Sunday night, then go in andmake sure it has the right impact,” she explains. “Christmas is a time where people come together. But that’s not true for everyone, and it’s important that a customer can go into a store and feel the Christmassymagic theymight not at home.” ForMarkWilliams, the show’s director, it’s been a ‘fascinating’ project. “There’s a natural interest to see how things are made,” he says. “And because of the cost of living crisis, it’s never beenmore important to understand the idea of getting value for money, and the journey these items have taken – whether it’s your wrapping paper or themeat on your Christmas table – from farmor factory through to the store shelves.” Inevitably, it’s not all plain sailing. “The displays aremore fiendish than flatpack furniture, and trying to get something to work in all 332 stores causes headaches,” he says. “And things that work well in the innovation kitchen don’t always work on the production line. It’s been interesting to see how the Partners react to these challenges, and work creatively to overcome them.” It’s a busy time for Partners such as Patrick Okari, a fruit and veg specialist from the Waitrose store in Bracknell. “You have a lot of work to do, but I’m inmy element,” says Patrick, who features in the show. “There’s a festivemood: the displays, the decorations – it’s magic. Everybody can tell the countdown to Christmas is here, and we want tomake it as enjoyable for our customers as we can.” “There’s definitely a passion, and I think it’s part of Waitrose being a Partnership,” concludesMark. “Everybody is invested in what they’re doing, and the care that goes into everything was eye-opening.” Waitrose at Christmas, Monday (12 December), Channel 4, 8pm festive dishes, met TV presenterMatt Baker at Countryfile Live last year. “I was doing a demonstration, and we got chatting afterwards,” recalls Zoë. “He said: ‘I’m fascinated by your role, and I think other people would be too. I’ve got a production company – do you thinkWaitrose would do a show?’ It was such an incredible opportunity to show our customers what we do, and the care we put into our products.” Filming began in early summer, with Zoë and her two fellow development chefs followed as they went frompresenting their tasty new ideas – including cheese and ’nduja profiteroles, and pork, sage and onion Cover Photographs: Maryna Terletska/ Getty Images