The gloomy trading update from Marks & Spencer yesterday (2 July) sent its share price plunging and shudders through the UK retail sector. With food sales falling by more than 4%, the head of its food business leaving the company and concerns over how an upmarket food retailer can appeal to ever-more price-conscious consumers, analysts have had their say on the outlook for the business. Here’s a selection of the key quotes from industry watchers.

“The food business seems to be particularly problematic. Consumers have become more price conscious as a result of pressure on household budgets and increasing food price inflation.” Sam Hart, Charles Stanley

“We reduced our forecasts significantly to reflect deterioration in the consumer and what we now believe are structural difficulties in both clothing and food. Food delivered a particularly disappointing performance.” Lucy Chamberlain, Goldman

“It is a very difficult time for them. Being at the premium end in good economic times is a comfortable place to be; when economic times are tighter, it’s less comfortable.” Neil Sanders, Verdict Research

“Moving towards value would require a complete shift in the brand and in the business. Everyone associates M&S with the quality of its food.” Keith Bowman, Hargreaves Lansdown

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“Though [M&S executive chairman] Stuart Rose blamed a raging “price war” in food for much of his problems in Food, the MD of Waitrose Mark Price [has] cast doubt on his assertion. Despite all the promotional hype and stunts by Asda, Tesco is quietly edging up prices in some areas (eg bananas) and managing their margins and basically behaving rationally, so M&S’s loss of food market share just reflects structural and competitive issues and trading down by the consumer.” Nick Bubb, Pali International

“We think there is little if any negative read-through from the M&S (Marks and Spencer) statement to other UK food retailers.” Credit Suisse

“I don’t necessarily think that stocking third-party brands will harm the business but, certainly, if that is the mainstay of M&S’s strategy, it is missing the point. There are fundamental problems and that kind of activity is playing around at the edges and not going to the nub of the issue.” Sanders

“Senior management credibility has been undermined both by the disappointing trading news and the extent of reductions to consensus profit estimates,” Tony Shiret, Credit Suisse

“In terms of management Stuart Rose will not have enjoyed reading this morning’s press, with his judgement and credibility being actively called into question. The AGM vote next week on his re-election as executive chairman could be ugly and there is probably a 40% chance that in due course he will be forced to step down or resign. That will leave M&S in even more of a mess than it is currently, given the lack of an obvious successor and even if Stuart Rose clings on to power, his authority will be much weakened.” Bubb

“That said, Waitrose is still doing quite well, and although in some ways Waitrose is not quite as premium as M&S because it has a wider variety of products and it is easier for consumers to trade down, there will be some comfort for M&S that, if it gets its strategy right, there is still some sales growth for them.” Sanders