Marks & Spencer's 'M&S Kitchen' concept is something of a recession beater, with a handful of successful branches having survived the retail downturn.
The heritage city of Bath in the UK, home to FoodBev Media Ltd, recently played host to the opening of the latest M&S Kitchen. Jason Danciger, head of hospitality for Marks & Spencer, talks to FoodBev.com editor Shaun Weston.
Is M&S Kitchen a new concept, Jason? I remember first hearing about it in 2008, I think, when a London branch was opened.
Jason Danciger: We first trialled the M&S Kitchen concept at our Canterbury store at the end of 2006, and following some very positive feedback, we've developed and enhanced the offer.
How many Kitchens are expected to roll out in the next year or so, and what's the roll-out strategy?
Danciger: We now have six Kitchens: in Canterbury, Westfield, Newcastle, Thurrock and most recently Gemini and Bath. While I wouldn't want to comment on the specifics of our roll-out strategy, suffice to say we continue to identify potential locations that are most suitable to meeting customer demand. Across our hospitality concepts more broadly, we're looking to include hospitality into every new store we open.
In light of recent troubled times for the high street, is this a good move for Marks & Spencer?
Danciger: Our hospitality offer continues to go from strength to strength. While many cafes have found trading conditions difficult during the recession, we've actually bucked the trend, and opened more M&S Cafes and M&S Kitchens over the last two years following sales growth in these areas.
Who's responsible for the overall look and feel of M&S Kitchen?
Danciger: We worked with our design partners Fitch and KIWI&POM to get the look just right, and when we're setting up new M&S Kitchens, we tweak the design to make the most of the architectural features unique to the building concerned.
Is the produce served in the restaurant any different than the produce sold in the food hall?
Danciger: All the food served in M&S Kitchens is made by chefs to order, using only quality M&S ingredients – the same ingredients that are on sale in our food halls.
Bearing in mind Green Mountain Coffee's recent assertion that achieving 100% Fairtrade isn't always the best option for the business, what's your take on M&S's Fairtrade strategy, and how important is it for M&S Kitchen customers to know that you use Fairtrade-certified organisations?
Danciger: As an own brand, with influence over two million workers worldwide through our supply chain, the provenance of our products is extremely important to us and our customers.
We have served only Fairtrade tea and coffee in our hospitality formats since 2007 and continue to place great importance in the difference it makes to the lives of the farmers who grow the crops. Our customers welcomed this decision and continue to support our use of Fairtrade-certified organisations.
On a lighter note, I was fortunate enough to sample the atmosphere and good food while the staff of the Bath store were training. I have to say that I was impressed, though not with the floral serving trays! Is each store subject to its own 'theme', or am I likely to catch sight of said trays at each M&S Kitchen I visit?
Danciger: We're really proud of our new Kitchen at the Bath store, and I'm glad that you enjoyed your visit. While each Kitchen will have features that are individual to that store, there is a consistent theme across all our Kitchens and our other hospitality concepts.
Sorry to hear you're not a fan of our floral trays! We've had some great feedback from customers about them, so for the moment they're here to stay!
Jason Danciger is head of hospitality at Marks & Spencer.
Shaun Weston is editor of FoodBev.com
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