Food has become an increasingly important part of Marks & Spencer’s offer and the retailer is looking at ways to repeat its catering success in other formats.
The high-street retailer is trialing its latest venture – the M&S Kitchen – in Canterbury, Kent, and if it is successful, the concept is likely to be rolled out nationally (MW last week).
The Kitchen offers brasserie-style meals and service in a standalone store that is open until 8.30pm to attract evening trade. It also offers an “express” service for takeaway customers.
Nick Gladding, a senior retail analyst at Verdict, a Datamonitor company, says: “Food has been very important to M&S in recent years and it has put a lot of investment in to it. It’s very popular and is a great growth area.”
M&S has long been held in high regard for its food, and the success of its own-branded goods in its in-store food halls has already been translated into 173 Simply Food stores, which have consistently performed well, even when other areas of the retailer’s business have faltered.
Helena Spicer, a leisure analyst at Mintel, argues that food has been the mainstay of the company in recent years. “M&S has been up and down with its clothing range, but when down, food has been a very strong performer and it has been able to build on that,” she says.
A key feature of the food hall products, according to Gladding, is that they are exclusively own-label. “A lot of them have very good margins and are very well regarded,” he says. “It’s an engine of growth. M&S also has a very good reputation for ready meals and is seen as a pioneer in that field.”
Using its reputation for high-quality food, M&S has been able to launch an array of catering outlets using its own-label products. The company launched its first café bars in the 1930s and now has more than 200 in-store Café Revives, as well as a waitress-serviced Restaurant in Newcastle.
Spicer points to a report she recently produced on in-store catering that suggests the majority of retailers are seeking to improve their offer now people are eating out and their expectations have been raised.
She argues that in-store catering used to focus on “eating on the run” but is increasingly being developed to help make stores “destination venues”, which she says is particularly true of Selfridges.
“Our report found that in-store catering was convenient if you need to eat in a hurry,” she says. “And that is the tradition, but now retailers are building on this. If you already have catering in place, you really have to look at improving it, especially with coffee shops. It’s very competitive.”
Retailers that develop catering formats offering café and takeaway options will attract more customers. “It’s just keeping people in their stores longer,” says Spicer, who believes the Kitchen idea is a smart move by M&S.
“Café Revue is doing well, but having this makes sure they keep ahead of the competition. M&S is trying to build on what has been a success.”