In the spring of 2017, Waitrose soft-launched a recipe box concept, trialling 15 boxes to understand the logistics of delivering recipe kits with exact portions of fresh ingredients to customers’ homes. After customer feedback, the healthy-eating Cook Well brand went national over the summer.

Speaking to Essential Retail, Jackie Wharton, director, business development at John Lewis Partnership, described how this initiative was a way to connect with pockets of the UK who don’t have access to a local Waitrose branch.

“Waitrose is a national brand, but there are pockets in the UK where there isn’t a store. Now we deliver from Glasgow to Exeter and customers have access to the brand in a way they haven’t done so before.”

Wharton also said Cook Well was created in response to changing consumer food habits. “There’s a big trend in customers making decisions about food as and when they want and making decisions about dinner late in the day,” she explained. “As a consequence, customers are enjoying scratch cooking, but don’t want to put a ready meal in the microwave.”

The Cook Well subscription service provides Waitrose customers with the convenience of food being delivered to their door, for those who are short on time, but like to be in control of what they eat.

But Cook Well has entered an increasingly crowded market, joining the likes of Gousto, Hello Fresh, Abel & Co and many more. That said, Wharton believes the new brand will resonate with customers who will be confident in the quality, ethics and welfare connected to the Waitrose brand.

Working with technology consultancy, Thoughtworks, Cook Well has been created around healthy eating and nutrition, but Waitrose is constantly taking customer feedback to iterate the product, building on things customers like. “They like the health and convenience, but as we grow, we’ll begin to think about seasonality and events, like Valentine’s Day or comfort food in the winter,” added Wharton.

Kevin Flynn, head of retail at ThoughtWorks, pointed out how more and more customers are wanting to be more creative in the kitchen, but they no longer need to visit a supermarket to get inspiration. “They can execute their ideas immediately and get it delivered,” he said. “And the really smart retailers are seeing that and adopting a far more flexible approach.”

To order a Cook Well box, customers visit the dedicated mobile optimised website, which has been elegantly designed with the smartphone in mind, as well as providing clear signposting so customers can keep on top of their subscriptions.

“It’s no secret consumers are now increasingly reliant – no that’s a massive understatement – they’re dependent on mobiles to run their lives. So that was an unprecedented opportunity to foster amazing customer intimacy,” explained Flynn, who said while there is an extraordinary amount of technology available, there is often a race among retailers to understand how to use it.

“Food is emotional thing,” added Wharton. “I like the human and digital aspect of the Cook Well development – there’s a very human side to it. And that’s what makes it.”