UAE: Waitrose opens in Abu Dhabi

By Leah Hyslop

Waitrose, the British supermarket chain which is sister to the department store John Lewis, has opened its first standalone store in Abu Dhabi.

The shop is the first of two branches which Waitrose plans to open in the UAE’s capital city this month, as the upmarket food retailer seeks to expand its overseas presence.

Ran by Dubai-based company Fine Fare Food Market, it is situated in a shopping mall on Al Reem Island, about three km from the centre of Abu Dhabi.

The island is currently being developed into a multi-billion dollar residential and business hub, and already has a large number of affluent expat residents who are expected to become the store’s chief clientele.

Asjad Yahya, vice president of research at Gulf investment bank Shuaa Capital, said that the store in the Boutik shopping centre “will give Waitrose access to a captive, mainly expat market, as no similar retail offering is likely to be available on Reem Island until at least 2013.”

He added, however, that the shop’s position as “the first truly high-end supermarket in Abu Dhabi” was likely to also make it popular with the local population.

British expats in the city largely responded positively to the opening, although many wished it was in a more central location.

Briton Rob Cave, who lives on Al Reem Island, said: “When my wife and I moved here in January there were no shops at all on the island, and not an Ocado delivery van in sight. Now we have the convenience of having a Waitrose a few steps away, a real luxury in the middle of the humid Abu Dhabi summer.”

“I think some people would have expected Waitrose to open up in an already-established shopping centre, somewhere on Abu Dhabi Island, but instead they have got one in a new, up-and-coming part of Abu Dhabi.”

Waitrose has long had an eye on the oil-rich Middle East as a target market. It opened its first two stores there in Dubai in 2008 and now has eight stores in the region, as well as stocking its own-brand products in the Middle Eastern retail chain Spinneys. Its only other non-UK stores are in the Channel Islands.

Martin Primett, manager of international development at Waitrose, said that the range in the Abu Dhabi stores would closely match Waitrose’s Dubai offerings.

“We work closely with our local operators to carefully plan what to offer in a shop abroad. The range must meet the needs of the local population and suit the local culture and environment, whilst also making sure customers instantly know they’re walking into a Waitrose,” he told Telegraph Expat.

“The food in our new Abu Dhabi shop is very similar to our shops in Dubai that have now been open for almost four years, as the range there has proved so popular with the local community.”

The second Abu Dhabi store is expected to open by the end of the month in the Al Raha Beach development, in the suburb of Khalifa City.

Waitrose’s expansion echoes that of other major UK food retailers, all looking to boost their profits from untapped overseas markets. Tesco now has over half its space overseas, while last year Marks & Spencer opened its first store in France for over a decade.