For people who care about their food

Waitrose makes a meal of it

Bag of Waitrose pak choi, with "display until" date

Previously I was a big fan of Waitrose.

Since returning to the UK last year we’ve done the bulk of our food shopping there. I find the quality and variety of food is generally better than most. Also, I like the little extras offered to their members, such as their weekly newspaper, which is excellent. Mr Not Delia enjoys the free coffee when shopping.

I’ve made several of their recipe ideas too, which are usually no-fuss, quick and tasty. Some of these have even become firm favourites for a quick mid-week meal.

It’s all these plus points and my high regard for them as a supermarket which have made it particularly painful for me to have had such poor service from them over a bag of pak choi. I wrote about the incident on the day it happened (14 March) and you can read the full story there.

Briefly, the veg was labelled “Display until 13 March”, yet the product was way past its best hours later on the 14th. I felt that it should have lasted longer. The Waitrose packaging also proclaimed that if you’re not happy with your product, you should return the packaging to the store for a replacement and refund.

14 March:

Mr Not Delia duly took the product back and asked for a replacement. The customer service assistant refused to refund or exchange it on the basis that a “display by” date is not intended for consumers. It’s an aid for shop staff. And thus it was our responsibility to eat the vegetables before they spoiled, irrespective of any “display until” date. We didn’t find this helpful at all, especially as it seemed to contradict the policy on the packaging itself, which promised a money-back guarantee.

16 March:

On further investigation, I discovered that “display until” labels are contrary to government guidelines on labelling, as they can lead to misunderstanding and unnecessary food waste. I duly wrote to Waitrose Customer Service on the Monday (16 March), ie the first office working day after the incident, and explained about the poor customer service we’d had at the branch, as well as outlining how their product packaging had contravened government guidelines. I received an automated acknowledgement on that date saying they would look into the problem and get back to me.

19 March:

However, it took them a few days to reply to this. On the 19th, I received an apology by email and a request for my address so they could send me a voucher. Fair enough, I thought, and waited for my voucher to arrive. By the 23rd, it had still not arrived, and on that day I received another email from them.

23 March:

This one apologised for the confusion over their “use by” and “display by” dates and said that they would address this issue in writing to me and send that along with a voucher. This was already nine days after the initial complaint. One can be forgiven for thinking: would it not have been a whole lot easier for all concerned simply to hand over a replacement bag of pak choi, like any sensible supermarket would do, rather than have all this angst about a £1.49 bag of leaves?

10 April:

It is now 10 April, four weeks since the original incident, and there’s still no sign of either voucher or explanation. I can’t understand what’s taking them so long.

It’s particularly disappointing to receive such poor service from what was my favourite supermarket. I’ve tried to be patient, not least because as a loyal customer I’d prefer not to change my shopping habits. However, it’s very difficult to think of Waitrose with the same respect as I once did. They do seem to have made a big meal out of a simple refund.

And, as the photo above (taken yesterday) shows, the “display until” message is still prominently featured on their packaging.

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