Waitrose takes offence at Asda’s new “Just Essentials” range, loses the plot over ‘budget’ definition

Essential Waitrose vs Asda Just Essentials — spot the difference (no prizes)

In a move which wouldn’t seem out of place being featured as a “Overheard In Waitrose” meme, the high-end food retailer has sent a legal letter to supermarket Asda in relation to its recently announced “Just Essentials” range of budget food and household products.

Waitrose claims the name is too similar to its own well-established “Essential” collection of (supposedly) cut-price offerings, launched in 2009, and thus infringes on its trademark. Asda’s response is that “the word “essentials” is a generic and commonly used term by retailers to describe their value product ranges.”

Although supermarket budget ranges tend to have fairly distinct names and designs, I still find this move by Waitrose to be rather odd. Ironically, it draws more attention to Asda’s new product range, which will eventually replace their SmartPrice label, than their own.

As both ranges are own brand affairs, there is no danger of a customer confusing the two in store as “Essential Waitrose” will never find its way into an Asda, and vice-versa for “Just Essentials” Asda fare.

Even if a household happens to be diverse enough to have bought items from both ranges, they are visually distinct enough to be easily recognisable, in a similar way to how a pair of scissors looks different to a knife or a vegetable peeler is different to a grater. Similar functions, different designs.

If anything, it shines a light on Waitrose’s own laughable understanding of what “budget” means to those families who rely on it.

Take a staple item like a can of chopped tomatoes. An Asda SmartPrice 400g can will cost just 28p, whereas the Essential Waitrose chopped tomatoes are nearly double the price at 55p, which is more expensive that some of the branded equivalents in Asda.

Granted, Waitrose’s ‘value’ range is cheaper than similar non-value items in store, but it would be a stretch to consider them ‘budget’ in the way most people think of the main supermarkets and discount outlets.

I’ve nothing against Waitrose per se — when I lived in a posher area which had several Waitrose stores within a ten mile radius, I enjoyed the occasional Greek feta salad, roasted chicken or some other ‘treat’ — but it’s verging on offensive for the company to imply that customers (probably Asda’s, not their own) are too stupid to be able to distinguish between very distinctly designed own brands in totally different supermarkets.

There’s a market for both, clearly, otherwise Waitrose’s offering wouldn’t have survived the 10 year mark, and Asda wouldn’t be rebranding and promising to roll out its new budget range to all of its stores, but they are barely comparable beyond that.

Waitrose is never going to be embroiled in a price war with any other supermarket (no, not even M&S). They’re far too upper middle classy for that. If they weren’t so hot on avoiding potential trademark infringements they could quite easily use Stella Artois’ slogan for what they offer.

Sadly, their current attitude to anything which is not their ‘reassuringly expensive’ fare has become self-parodying. I’m sure they’re all lovely people but they’re poking the lower class customers when really they should just continue to cater for their own and leave the rest of us to fend for ourselves.

Really, non-Waitrose demographic families are never going to mistake your “essential” goods for the cupboard staples they require. In fact, they’ll probably never even see them.