United Kingdom

ANTONIA HOYLE and her family try hundreds of new taste-alike products

Not since Nigella recommended roast lettuce has such upset been unleashed on middle-class kitchens. 

When it was announced last February that Waitrose's 19-year partnership with Ocado was ending, with arch-rival Marks & Spencer taking its place, wails of disbelief reverberated off granite worktops around Britain.

What next for those who want Waitrose sourdough? Or the parents who face a Friday night revolt if their Ocado driver can't deliver the supermarket's stone-baked pizza?

Marks & Spencer might have mastered the art of healthy convenience food, but few of its stores sell its full range and it has never been synonymous with the weekly family shop.

Until now. In a bid to stop Waitrose fans deserting Ocado in their droves, M&S — selling more than 6,000 products on Ocado from next month — is not only replicating the larger packet sizes Waitrose offers weekly shoppers, but introducing extraordinarily similar versions of some of Waitrose's bestselling products.

Not since Nigella recommended roast lettuce has such upset been unleashed on middle-class kitchens, writes Antonia Hoyle

It insists the new lines were not conceived to copy Waitrose. Some look so suspiciously familiar, however, that even a die-hard Waitrose fan would be forgiven for doing a double-take.

But can they compete with the much-loved originals? Or will Waitrose — itself launching thousands of products in an attempt to persuade shoppers to defect to its own website — emerge the winner? 

I was given a sneak preview of M&S's new lines to compare with the products they're replacing and put them to the test with the help of my family: husband Chris, daughter Rosie, nine, and son Felix, seven. 

Let the (artisan bread) bun fight commence.

No contest — Colin's still the champion caterpillar 

M&S COLIN THE CATERPILLAR

£7; 625g; 452 cals

A children's party staple since its 1990 launch, Colin — a chocolate sponge filled with butter cream — has spawned myriad copycats but, as Rosie, pointing to his pink chocolate tongue, says: 'You can see they've put more effort into him.'

Pictured: Rosie and Felix test out Caterpillar cakes

WAITROSE CATERPILLAR CAKE

£7; £740g; 430 cals

Waitrose's version — introduced in 2015 — is shorter than his rival and doesn't have the same detail on his white chocolate boots. Tastes almost as good, but not as handsome.

WAITROSE: 3 M&S: 5

SMOOTH OPERATORS

WAITROSE STRAWBERRY & BANANA SMOOTHIE MIX

PRICE: £2.50; WEIGHT: 480g;

CALORIES: 36 per 100g

Comprises 85 per cent frozen strawberries and 15 per cent frozen bananas to blend with apple juice for a quick smoothie. 

The high ratio of strawberries to bananas appealed to Rosie, who described it as 'nice and berry-ish'.

M&S STRAWBERRY & BANANA SMOOTHIE MIX

£2.50; 480g; 36 cals

There's the same suggestion customers blend the smoothie mixture with apple juice, and, officially, the same ratio of strawberries to bananas. 

Perhaps we got lucky, but we count more slices of banana in our bag than the Waitrose offering, which made the smoothies slightly creamier.

WAITROSE: 3/5 M&S: 4/5

WHO TAKES THE BISCUIT?

WAITROSE CONTINENTAL MILK CHOCOLATE BUTTER BISCUITS

£1.39; 125g; 511 cals

Containing 63 per cent milk chocolate completely covering one side of a rectangular, buttery biscuit, I had to stop Felix guzzling the lot.

M&S EXTREMELY CHOCOLATEY MILK CHOCOLATE SQUARE BISCUITS

£1.50; 125g; 498 cals

These also claim to contain 63 per cent chocolate, but feel much more chocolatey. 

They also look more interesting, with the chocolate divided into squares that can be snapped into portions..

WAITROSE: 4 M&S: 5

SWEET NECTAR OF SUCCESS

WAITROSE DELICIOUSLY SWEET NECTARINES

£2.50; 45 cals

A pack of four honey royale nectarines that, unfortunately, could do with a couple more days to ripen when delivered. 'If it was a bit juicier it would be way better,' says Felix.

A pack of four honey royale nectarines that, unfortunately, could do with a couple more days to ripen when delivered

M&S PERFECTLY RIPE YELLOW NECTARINES

£2.50; 40 cals

Another packet of four honey royale nectarines, but bigger and indeed perfectly ripe. But Felix says they're still not as good as his Grandma's, which come from Morrisons.

WAITROSE: 3 M&S: 4

CHERRY-PICKED

WAITROSE & PARTNERS CHERRY AND ALMOND TART

£5; 375g; 375 cals

A pastry case filled with almond sponge, cherry jam and morello cherries, sprinkled with almonds, this is a dessert lovers delight.

M&S MORELLO CHERRY AND ALMOND TART

£5; 375g; 400 cals

Almond sponge in pastry base. Check. Morello cherries. Check. Sprinkling of almonds. Check. 

If M&S really isn't copying Waitrose it's accidentally managed to capture an identikit tart here — albeit with 2 per cent fewer cherries and less sophisticated packaging.

A pastry case filled with almond sponge, cherry jam and morello cherries, sprinkled with almonds, this is a dessert lovers delight

WAITROSE: 4 M&S: 3

NOT-SO-SIMILAR SAUSAGES

WAITROSE DUCHY ORGANIC FREE RANGE PORK SAUSAGES

£3.79; 400g; 227 cals

Eighty-six per cent pork shoulder and seasoned with nutmeg, ginger, mustard powder and chilli powder, Chris and I loved these. Perhaps not the best choice for picky kids though. 'Too much pepper,' thinks Felix.

M&S SELECT FARMS BRITISH FREE RANGE PORK SAUSAGES

£3.50; 400g; 231 cals

BOX CLEVER FOR A CHEESY CHOICE 

WAITROSE BLUE D’AFFINOIS

£4.25; 200g; 421 cals

A soft French cheese with a hint of blue that stops it being bland like brie, this came in a conventional wedge shape, and I couldn’t stop eating it.

Pictured: M&S and Waitrose cheeses

M&S BLEU D’AFFINOIS

£3.50; 170g; 424 cals

I couldn’t detect any difference in taste or texture between this and its Waitrose rival, but the cube-shaped box was more fun.

WAITROSE: 5

M&S: 5+ (FOR THE PACKAGING)

Around 1cm smaller, minus the mustard and ginger but containing 97 per cent pork, I didn't think they were as succulent — but the children enjoyed them more.

WAITROSE: 5 M&S: 3

SEEING DOUGH-BLE

WAITROSE NO1 WHITE SOURDOUGH BREAD

£2; 500g; 230 cals

Made from a ten-year-old starter dough out of flour from Shipton Mill in the Cotswolds. But the distinctive taste is too 'strong' for Rosie's liking and a touch too dry for mine.

M&S WHITE SOURDOUGH BREAD

£2; 500g; 238 cals

Not to be outdone, M&S have used a 30-year-old starter. Although the style of bag appears a blatant copy, the loaf has a more appealing golden crust and moister taste.

WAITROSE: 3 M&S: 4

HAS MARMALADE MET ITS MATCH?

WAITROSE DUCHY ORGANIC THICK CUT MARMALADE

£2; 340g; 277 cals

A Waitrose classic, this marmalade was my husband's firm favourite. 'It's milder and sweeter which I prefer,' says Chris.

M&S FAIRTRADE DARK SEVILLE ORANGE MARMALADE

£1.50; 340g; 263 cals

Also coarse cut, but darker and more bitter. The more robust flavour might be popular with committed marmalade fans — but not us, even if it is 25 per cent cheaper.

WAITROSE: 4 M&S: 3

CAFFEINE COMPETITION

NO1 WAITROSE & PARTNERS FAIRTRADE SUMATRA MANDHELING GROUND COFFEE

£3.50; 227g

I like my coffee strong, and this offering didn't disappoint. Brewed in a cafetiere, it had a satisfying, bitter aftertaste.

M&S ORGANIC PREMIUM SUMATRA MANDHELING GROUND COFFEE

£3.50; 227g

Tasted exactly the same, with even the packaging seemingly designed to befuddle long-standing Ocado shoppers, who would be forgiven for clicking this into their basket without even realising it's sold by a different supermarket.

WAITROSE: 5 M&S: 5

Tangy, refreshing, 30 per cent fruit and no added sugar, and so much more exciting than boring old orange, say my children

A CORDIAL COMPARISON

BOTTOMS UP FOR BEST BOOZE 

WAITROSE LA MONETTA GAVI DEL COMMUNE DI GAVI

£12.79

An Italian dry white in a screw-top bottle that promises ‘a juicy texture and a zesty finish’ full of pear and citrus flavours. 

Although 12 per cent, it felt light and easy to drink. My favourite.

An Italian dry white in a screw-top bottle that promises ‘a juicy texture and a zesty finish’ full of pear and citrus flavours

M&S GAVI DEL COMUNE DI GAVI

£12

Also 12 per cent, also bottled in Castle Boglione, and also offering pear and citrus flavours, this is a corked bottle so less convenient — and had a stronger aftertaste.

WAITROSE: 4 M&S: 3 

WAITROSE 30 PER CENT MEXICAN LIME JUICE CORDIAL

85p; 1 litre; 2 cals per diluted 100ml

Tangy, refreshing, 30 per cent fruit and no added sugar, and so much more exciting than boring old orange, say my children.

M&S MEXICAN LIME CORDIAL

85p; 1 litre; 1 cal per diluted 100ml

Same 30 per cent lime juice, no discernible change in taste and only 1 calorie difference. I suspect this comes from the same supplier.

WAITROSE: 4 M&S: 4

WHO FINDS PIZZA PERFECTION?

WAITROSE STONEBAKED FETA & ONION PIZZA

£4.50; 440g; 303 cals

A medium crust pizza with caramelised onions, tomato sauce, mozzarella, a sprinkling of feta and mascarpone, this was delicious.

M&S STONEBAKED PIZZA WITH FETA, MASCARPONE & CARAMELISED ONION

£4.50; 480g; 255 cals

Whether it's the tangy cheddar, bigger chunks of feta or more generous helping of sauce — or all three — this was my favourite. And as the bigger pizza it's better value.

WAITROSE: 4 M&S: 5+

A JAMMY DOUBLE

WAITROSE DUCHY ORGANIC RASPBERRY PRESERVE

£2; 340g; 273 cals

with 56g fruit per 100g, this organic jam has an intense colour and firm texture. My favourite and a hit with Felix. 'One more spoonful please, Mummy,' he says.

M&S ORGANIC FAIRTRADE RASPBERRY CONSERVE

£2; 340g; 255 cals

Lighter in colour and slightly runnier, the M&S version contains 55g of fruit per 100g and is Rosie's winner, being easier to spread.

WAITROSE: 4 M&S: 3

And the winner is... Waitrose total 55 out of a possible 70, but M&S have pipped them to the post with 56

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