Marks & Spencer chief executive Sir Stuart Rose today (20 May) defended the decision to sell selected brands alongside the company’s own-label food.


Sir Stuart, speaking as M&S unveiled its full-year results, said the move to launch a trial sale of some 350 food and consumer good brands, including Heinz Tomato Ketchup, Weetabix and Marmite , proved the company was “listening to its customers”.


The M&S boss, who pointed out that one of his favourite products, Tabasco , had until now been available in the company’s stores, was adamant that the move would not harm the M&S brand.


“It will strengthen [the M&S brand]. Our customers are a bit frustrated. They say to us: ‘We love what you do [and] your shop is fantastic but my husband only wants Marmite’. The move is recognition of two things: first that we are listening to our customers and, second, that were putting our efforts in food into customer service and convenience.”


M&S will launch the trial in 19 UK stores in June and Sir Stuart said the company could look to extend the range into other stores.


The move is the latest bid to breathe fresh life into the M&S food business. For the 12 months to 29 March, food sales fell on a like-for-like basis and Sir Stuart said M&S had to convince consumers that the company did not only focus on prepared foods. “We are not a prepared foods business; we offer the complete range and we have to get that message across,” he said.


M&S accounts for 4.3% of UK grocery sales and the company has targeted a market share of 5% through the expansion of its Simply Food convenience store network.


Nonetheless, despite those ambitions, with the outlook for consumer spending in the UK uncertain, M&S is looking to tighten its belt and focus on controlling costs.


In recent weeks, M&S has faced criticism from food manufacturers over a review of its supplier base and, with a target of GBP50m (US$98.4m) in cost-savings for this financial year, Sir Stuart said the company would closely monitor its supply base.


“We had got to the stage where some [suppliers] were too light for heavy work and too heavy for light work and we have asked them if they were fit for purpose,” he said. “This has led to some painful conversations, but for every one of those, there will be some positive conversations. We can’t stand still. We have to take the business forward.”