1 December, 2015

Food, glorious food

Food has always been part of the M&S story. Back in 1884, our Penny Bazaars sold some basic food items, like flour, spices and confectionary. Over 130 years later, our Food offer has evolved into one of the most sophisticated, respected and expert operations in retail. It’s been quite some journey, too. The comprehensive food ranges sold by the M&S of today bear no relation to how things were when we were starting out. But, through a series of industry firsts, commercial savvy and an awareness of what our customers want, slowly but surely we grew into a power house of food innovation.

The iconic M&S sandwich first made its appearance back in 1929. They were sold at our ice-cream counters which were introduced to our stores two years earlier. Nine decades later and they remain one of our staple products. Our dedicated food department opened in all stores in 1931. Initially, they sold canned goods, fruit, vegetables and cakes but, throughout the thirties, we extended the range to include cooked meats, sausages, pies, cheese and bacon in selected stores. By the end of the decade, we’d introduced Café Bars to a small number of stores and established our own fruit distribution centre in London’s Covent Garden.

Industry firsts

After the privations of WW2, we set about making some significant changes to our food business. One was the appointment of Technical Executive and Chief Chemist, Nathan Goldenberg. This was not just a first for us, but a first for the industry too. Goldenberg’s Food Technology department was responsible for improving quality control, hygiene and safety standards. 1948 also saw the introduction of self-service food shopping; transforming our retail space and reducing waiting times.

The 60s ushered a whole new raft of firsts for the business. Chief among these was the sale of fresh, chilled chicken in store and the launch of our very first stand-alone Food Store. We were ahead of the curve in the 70s too. ‘Sell-by’ dates were introduced on our products – an innovation that was quickly copied by other retailers and, eventually, became law. Convenience foods and more exotic food ranges also first appeared in the 70s, reflecting the changing lifestyles and tastes of the time. So popular was our pre-prepared Chicken Kiev that we set up a factory solely for making this product.

New meals, new counters

When the 80s arrived, we relaunched our sandwich range. Prawn and Mayonnaise proved to be the most popular when it launched in 1981. The middle of the decade saw the introduction of a new range of vegetarian meals, including lasagne and moussaka. By the 90s, we were reaching out to our customers in a new way through rear-service deli counters, butcher shops, loose fruit and vegetables, and wet fish counters all appearing for the first time. Percy Pigs were launched in 1993 and over one billion have now been sold.

Counting the calories

The noughties kicked off in typically innovative fashion with the launch of our reduced calories, less than 3% fat Count on Us range in 2000, followed by our decision to use only free range eggs in all of our products in 2002. The Melt in the Middle Chocolate Pudding arrived in 2004 – sales of which rocketed by 3000% after its ‘This is not just food, this is M&S food’ TV ad aired. As the decade drew to a close, we’d launched our popular Dine in For Two for £10 promotion.

In recent years, our customers’ appetite for products that fit their lifestyles has been met with new innovations. The Fuller Longer range was developed with effective weight loss in mind, while Simply M&S offered everyday food products at great value prices.   

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