Protecting the Magic and Modernising the Rest: Food Store Renewal Trial Underway at Hempstead Valley
Stuart Machin, M&S Food Managing Director
In Food we have a far-reaching plan to protect the magic of M&S – our market-leading quality, our famous innovation and exceptional sourcing, whilst modernising the rest, particularly our supply chain and selling channels.
Our plan touches every part of the Food business and we’re in the very early stages of our transformation. But it’s an exciting time; to drive change we need to be bold and have the confidence to try new things and take decisive action. In the last 12 months we have announced M&S Food will be going online via our new joint venture with Ocado, our innovation pipeline is creating new, loved products with real commercial impact - such as our vegan Plant Kitchen range - and we’re shaking up the way we engage with customers with partnerships like Britain’s Got Talent.
Developing our store estate and renewing our format is an important part of our modernisation. We want M&S Food to be an enjoyable shopping destination, where customers come to buy delicious tasting quality food at a great every day price. To do this we need to broaden our appeal and be more relevant, more often.
Last week, we began our first renewal store pilot at Hempstead Valley and it’s an ideal location for us to test and learn. The store is just minutes from the M2, benefits from over 300 free car parking spaces and thanks to its great commuter transport links and attractive market towns, Kent’s Medway region has a growing family population. As part of a wider shopping centre, it’s a competitive location and the proximity of other major supermarkets help us to scrutinise the format commercially.
Renewal isn’t simply about store design or a facelift; it’s about a total renewal of everything we do and creating a fantastic store experience. Our renewal vision is about having the mind of a supermarket - being efficient in our operations and processes – but with the soul of a fresh market – protecting the magic customers love about M&S Food – the freshness, the quality and the fun. I always think M&S is at its best when we’re serious about food but don’t take ourselves too seriously.
One of the challenges we face is the fact that only around a dozen M&S stores stock our full range and to be more relevant, we need customers to see more of our fantastic food. At Hempstead, our Food Hall has grown from around 9,500sqft to over 16,000sqft and this has helped us deliver a 30% product increase, so we now offer the full M&S Food range.
Hempstead is just the starting point for our renewal programme. There are a lot of new ideas in place and the format will no doubt evolve. We will be closely critiquing the return on space and taking the learnings and building on the opportunities. We will test just a handful of stores and then pause and trade them before we move forward. Our store team play a crucial role in delivering that feedback and helping us understand what is working and what isn’t – so I want to hand over to our store manager, Suzi Price, to give the lowdown on what’s happening at Hempstead.
Suzi Price - M&S Hempstead Valley Store Manager
“As the first test and learn store in our Food renewal programme, the whole Hempstead Valley team is geared up for our role in M&S’ transformation. With our Food Hall almost doubled in size, a more contemporary modern look and the full food range in stock, my team and I can really show our customers that we’re much more than a ready meal and special occasion retailer.
The new format shines a spotlight on our fresh food credentials. The extra space means we have a 50% increase in fresh produce and a whole range of new variety fruit and veg on display. We know plastics use is a key topic for both us and our customers, so we have 40% more loose produce. We’re also trialing a greengrocer role, who can help customers select and weigh items but also provide tips on how to preserve fresh produce and prevent food waste at home.
Having doubled in size, our in-store bakery is another big new feature for our local customers. We bake through the day, injecting a fantastic aroma in the store and have removed plastic from our fresh loaves to add to the feeling of freshness. For the first time this week our £1.95 white boule loaf was a top selling product.
Our Frozen offer is a great example of how M&S can become more relevant to a busy family customer. At Hempstead we’ve increased freezer space by 75% and it has become the biggest in the business – stocking 291 different lines. There’s some exciting (and very conveinient) new product development including frozen packs of popular ingredients such as chopped herbs and onions. A bigger freezer space means we can accommodate larger family pack sizes, so we’ve increased our three best-selling frozen vegetable lines to 1kg packs and introduced a great value 1.5kg chip bag and 2 litre ice cream tub to test customer demand.
We’re learning more about the household and grocery products customers want and need in order to do a fuller shop. We are always M&S brand first but an example of where we gathering insights is our ‘Yeah Baby’ section, which includes some trusted baby and toddler brands. Some will work and some won’t and we’ll be listening carefully to the feedback from local parent focus groups.
The design includes some hero messages on our great every day value – calling out price points such as our £6 wines and 75p white loaf. We know we have work to do in changing perception of our value and it’s been really interesting to listen to customers’ surprise on some of our prices.
We’re testing out some fun new interactive features such as our oinking Percy Pig sweet stand and new kiddie sized trollies – which we ran out of on Saturday! There are some practical features to help make shopping quicker and easier for busy customers – such as our Scan and Shop facility. The Click & Collect point is now better located adjacent to the Food Hall, which is particularly helpful when over 70% of our online orders are collected in store.
A big part of my team’s role is to give feedback on the operational impact of the new format and help shape and refine those behind the scenes processes for the future roll-out. We are applying the principles of FUSE – our wider supply chain & logistics action plan – to our stock allocation and replenishment to improve availability for customers.
At Hempstead, the whole team is motivated by the fact that we are helping to shape and evolve the future format. Colleagues from the Support Centre are visiting regularly to gather insights from us on what’s working for our customers and what’s not. It’s only the start but it’s a first step to improve our overall store experience and it’s fantastic to be driving that change.”