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Product Standards

We live in an increasingly globalised society. Many of the products we enjoy in everyday life have been sourced and produced in locations from all over the world. Retailers face continual scrutiny on the efficiency and safety of their supply chain, provenance of raw materials, and their approach to responsible sourcing in order to minimise reputational risks. Effective supply chain management is also key to security of supply, remaining price competitive, as well as innovation and sustainability.

As one of the most trusted Brands on the high street, we believe our role is to reassure our customers and key stakeholders that our products are safe and sourced with integrity. To do this, we must look beyond our operations to the wider supply chain, where the biggest impacts occur. Customers are also increasingly concerned about their health and also demanding information and reassurance of the origin and content of their food.

Commitments and targets
We are committed to protecting our brand integrity and maintaining customer trust by ensuring that our products are safe, legal, high quality and accurately reflect any claims or statements that are made. 

We also want to lead our sector in sustainable production and consumption, offering our customers the good value, high quality products and services they expect from M&S, while respecting planetary boundaries and the need for social equity. We recognise the integral role of animal health and welfare in sustainable food production and strive to continue progressing the highest welfare standards. 

Approach
We are a food specialist, not a supermarket. Our products are made exclusively for M&S and this unique position means they are not comparable with the rest of the market. We have a catalogue in the region of 7,000 products, offering everything from everyday essentials to special occasion food. Rather than joining the race to the bottom on price, we focus on developing top-quality ranges that are competitively priced, whilst ensuring our suppliers get a fair deal too.

It is of paramount importance that we manage the safety and integrity of our products and supply chain, especially as we grow our global food business and given the heightened risk of fraudulent behaviour in the supply chain. 

We believe our product standards are industry-leading. We require all products to be made by suppliers who are technically competent within their specific area and who operate well managed hygienic locations applying Good Manufacturing Practice, a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) approach and due diligence to ensure safety, legality, integrity and consistent quality. 

Where we make a claim on pack, either directly or through the consumer information we provide, or have a brand value, we have a legal and moral obligation to ensure the content of the product accurately reflects these statements. We divide integrity risks into two types:

  • Brand integrity claims – claims that we make about things that are controlled by approved supply chains, supplier specification and segregation. Examples include country of origin, non-GM ingredients, farming standards such as Free Range and Outdoor Bred, and certifications like Fairtrade or Marine Stewardship Council
  • Product compositional claims – claims that we make about things that are controlled by approved supplier specification, manufacturing methods and/or defined industry standards. Examples include nutritional information, illegal residues (e.g. pesticides, veterinary medicines), or compositional standards (e.g. extra virgin olive oil)

Our Technical Terms of Trade set out our minimum requirements for suppliers in order to meet our commitment to customers to deliver products that are safe, legal and high quality and which have been produced with integrity. 

Our Technical Terms of Trade are supported by a number of policies (e.g. Packaging, Pesticides, Non-GM, Nanotechnology, and so on) and Codes of Practice (which set out our requirements in detail for a particular topic) and Guidelines (which are advisory in nature). These can be found on Connect – our online Quality Management System – and should be read alongside our Terms of Trade. Our technical requirements are expected to be fully understood at a senior management level and communicated to all staff involved in producing our products.  Find out more about our approach to supplier management.

Our approach to product standards focuses on:

Managing the safety and integrity of our products and supply chain

Food safety
Nothing is more important to us than food safety.

We adopt a HACCP approach to ensuring food safety. A fully documented HACCP evaluation must be carried out for each product in accordance with our HACCP Code of Practice. 

Our policy is to provide open and clear product labelling to allow our customers to make informed choices about the products they purchase. These requirements are detailed in our Code of Practice for Labelling of Foods. 

Quality management
Our customers expect our products to be of high quality. Product quality is therefore of paramount importance to us. Our supplier expectations are outlined in our Food Quality Code of Practice and supporting guidelines. 

Detailed specifications are set out as part of our Stage and Gate Framework product development process.

Suppliers must have a full detailed specification (including HACCP) and an agreed contract between them and the approved co-packer that they choose to use. The specification must detail the chain of custody, all the process steps the product has been subject to prior to receipt at the co-packer and the responsibilities of the co-packer for each product. 

Suppliers are required to input product specification data into FIND (our Food Innovation Database). This helps us ensure that our Stage and Gate requirements are met in order to achieve the standards expected by our customers. FIND forms a searchable database of all product information including ingredients and their countries of origin.

Suppliers must immediately notify us of any quality issues or concerns. We operate a clear system of product withdrawals and recalls when required.

All suppliers must manage and respond to any complaints received by our customers.

Integrity of raw materials and finished products
Our suppliers are responsible for procuring and managing all raw materials including those used in packaging in accordance with current legislation and relevant M&S requirements. 

Depending on the results of our individual raw material assessments these include supplier management plans, raw material specifications, use of controlled raw materials, and exclusion of prohibited ingredients or companies. 

Suppliers are required to ensure segregation methods and systems are in place. This can be achieved by GMP, physical or time controls. 

We have grouped raw materials, commodities and ingredients into three areas of control as follows:   

  • Minimum standards: where no additional controls or M&S specific interventions are required other than meeting our minimum standards (e.g. Technical Terms of Trade)
  • Mandatory Raw Material Requirements: where we’ve identified the need for requirements over and above our minimum standards for particular raw materials or ingredients
  • A List Raw Materials (M&S Audited List): these are raw materials or ingredients that through risk assessment we believe pose a significant risk to our customers or to our brand which warrants our direct intervention
In all cases, key aspects of raw material specifications are recorded in the relevant finished product specification on FIND (our Food Innovation Database). Suppliers are not permitted to deviate from the agreed specification. 

Sustainability standards
Our biggest impact comes through the products we sell and the way they’re used. We want to help our customers make a difference to their communities and live more sustainable lives.

Over the last 8 years, we’ve been progressively improving the sustainability of our products. 

Minimum Standards
All raw materials and products must be sourced and produced in accordance with our Global Sourcing Principles. Find out more about our approach to supplier management.

Wherever possible, we also aim to establish clear minimum sustainability standards for our suppliers to meet for specific products and individual raw materials. In some cases this might be legal compliance and in others it means being aligned with standard industry practice or even going beyond where we’ve decided to take a leadership position. You can read more about our minimum standards in key sections of this website. Find out more about our approach to raw materials, commodities & ingredients.

Plan A product attributes
We want every one of our products to have a Plan A attribute by 2020 – a characteristic or inherent quality or feature of a product which has a positive or lower environmental and/or social impact.

Our suppliers are required to progressively improve the sustainability credentials of our products. All should have at least one Plan A product attribute by 2020 and we have targets in place every year to increase this number. 

Every product confirmed as having at least one approved Plan A product attribute must also meet our minimum standards. 

Proposed attributes for a particular product are added to the FIND (our Food Innovation Database) specification by the supplier and checked by us as part of the approval process. Some attributes are subjective or require specific knowledge from an expert to confirm their relevance to a particular range or product (e.g. 25% carbon reduction). These require prior approval from the Plan A product review committee before they can be added to FIND and claimed for a product.  In total, 73% of M&S food and household products had at least one Plan A attribute in 2015/16.

Our current list of attributes for food and household products can be found in the document How We Define Plan A Product Attributes, which you can download on this page. 

We don’t promise that all of our products will be sustainable by 2020. Our aspiration is to make a systemic improvement across our entire product offer. Achieving this means our customers can be confident that any M&S product they buy is better for them, for the environment, and for the people who made it.

Independent product testing
Suppliers are responsible for using appropriately accredited laboratories for the testing of raw materials and finished products. 

We also develop sampling plans for independent testing of shop-bought finished products to be carried out based on our requirements and contaminants risk assessment. We do this to confirm that our products meet the specified quality, safety and legal standards. Testing may be done on a quarterly or annual basis. 

All product categories are tested for microbiology, nutrition, GMO, and chemicals in packaging. For example, we have led the industry in reducing campylobacter in our poultry, a stance which has been endorsed by the Food Standards Agency. We want to eradicate incidences of campylobacter and have developed a five point plan to help us to do this. We have published a case study which provides details of its five point plan and the results produced (available to download on this page).  

Depending on the product category, we also test for allergens, contaminants (e.g. mycotoxins, acrylamide, furans, pesticide residues, histamine, and veterinary residues).   

We also carry out testing to confirm the authenticity and origin of meat, farmed fish and shellfish, eggs, olive oil, honey and coffee. 

During the course of a year we typically carry out over 16,000 individual independent product tests each year.


Disposal of surplus stock
Over the last 5 years we’ve been working with our suppliers to help them divert waste away from landfill. We’re also working with our suppliers to minimise food packaging write-offs. This has been supported through the introduction of industry-leading programmes covering manufacturing and farming excellence that encourage diversion from landfill and give credit for waste reduction. 

The Company Shop is our preferred outlet for the handling of surplus M&S labelled foods. They are equipped and approved to handle all M&S surplus product direct from manufacturing facilities. We encourage suppliers to open staff shops in association with Company Shop to sell surplus disclaimed M&S food in its original packaging at discounted prices. 

Developing new and innovative products which continue to inspire our customers

Food research and technical innovation
In a competitive marketplace, our position as a food specialist sets us apart from our rivals. We have achieved this through our constantly evolving ranges, our quality and our innovation.

We work closely with our suppliers to develop high quality and innovative products that are only available at M&S. 

New product development
In any season, typically around 30% of our products will be new.

We follow a Foods Stage and Gate new product and packaging development process. As part of our drive to ensure that our Food business is ‘Fit for the Future’ we’ve recently revised our Stage and Gate Framework to make sure we keep our customers at the heart of all that we do as we develop our product offer.

Upgrades and reformulations are done as part of continuously improving product quality. We use consumer acceptance panel testing with 50-100 consumers who have been recruited to specific criteria. We also request products to be formally benchmarked by an independent panel at Campden BRI (a research association serving all sectors of the food and drink industry).

Working with others
Listening, learning, responding and working in partnership is an important part of how we do business.

To develop our approach to product standards we’ve worked with many industry experts and scientists, including the Food Standards Agency, FAI Farms, WWF, SAI Global, FSIG and Campden BRI, to name but a few.

Throughout this website, we explain how they, and our many other partners, are helping us address specific issues of relevance to our product standards. 

Key documents

Find out more about our approach to raw materials, commodities and ingredients


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Find out more about our approach to farm animal health and welfare


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Find out about our approach to sourcing household products


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Find out more about our approach to packaging and hardware


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