Is M&S food at the cutting edge of UK gourmet fare?

M&S food division is one of the brighter stars in the company’s portfolio; its legacy fashion businesses a victim of ageing demographics, a surge in on-line and the Covid pandemic which has seen shoppers shift away from the high street in droves.

At one time, M&S food were in the high street stores only, but that’s changed with a surge in stand alone food outlets (FoodHalls) plus more facilities in petrol retail.

The product portfolio has definitely expanded. The vast majority of it is fresh, salads and ready meals branded ‘dine in’. Recently M&S food has taken to selling 3rd party brands, a strategy it once refused to contemplate.

I visited an M&S FoodHall in Norwich last week about an hour before closure. (The shop shuts at 2100 which for people like me who’re used to living in Asia-Pacific is quite early.) It was pretty empty of shoppers, although well stocked.

I was looking for cheese.

Living in Japan, finding good quality cheese is a perpetual challenge. When you do find it, it’s in miniscule pack sizes and priced exorbitantly.

This was one half of the M&S FoodHall cheese display.

Honestly speaking, space wise it was much smaller than I’ve seen in Sainsbury or Waitrose, for example. The selection wasn’t bad but it didn’t really grab my attention. The varieties are hard to pick out on shelf and there didn’t seem to be any logic in how the shelf was ranged.

By contrast, M&S has put more effort into plant meats. I don’t know what M&S shoppers buy, but I would guess that the basket spend on cheese is much higher than plant meats.

Although M&S has some category signage there’s little other POS material to stimulate or educate the shopper. These days gourmet shoppers want to be tantalised with news and new fare.

I wonder if the M&S team have spent much time looking at retailers like City Super, Seijou Ishii or even Japanese in-store, gourmet brands like RF1? Their bright colours (M&S Foodhall is quite dark and somber), ambiance and above product selection are truly something to savour if you’re a foodie.

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