Blog: Dean BestM&S showcases new look at a manic Westfield

Dean Best | 13 September 2011

Usually the crowds are at the other end of the Jubilee Line at Wembley but today (13 September), one of Europe's largest shopping malls, Westfield Stratford City, opened in East London.

Westfield, said to be Europe's largest urban shopping centre, has attracted thousands upon thousands of column inches, with its opening coming with consumer confidence on the floor and its location next to the site for next year's Olympic Games.

One of the main tenants is Marks and Spencer and today just-food joined a media tour around its new store, led by chief executive Marc Bolland.

After fighting through the shoppers (some keen to snaffle up a glass or two of the free refreshments in-store), it became clear that Bolland - as he did when he was in charge of Morrisons - has looked to zero in on what he perceives to be M&S's point of difference from its competition.

After internal concerns that M&S's food halls were becoming too similar to UK supermarkets, Bolland has embarked on a strategy to make the company a "speciality" retailer that sells food products "at a very good price". He told just-food: "We are very much setting ourselves apart."

The changes Bolland has made - including deli counters, new-look bakery departments and a selection of 100 niche international brands under the "Flavours of the World" banner - reinforce M&S's position as a purveyor of upmarket foods.

New-look packaging on a range of lines seeks to make the food inside the hero (a question on the potential cost benefit to the company of having smaller labels was brushed aside by the company). And, upstairs, a redesigned M&S "Tasting" Cafe sells a wider range of products also on sale in the main food hall.

Bolland insisted that consumers could still do a full weekly shop in the new-look store and some can - if they earn enough. With the economy all but stalled, the changes are more likely to appeal to those who can spend an extra few quid on olive oil or chocolate.

Of course, there are consumers who will, on occasion, look to the retailer to treat themselves (and you can still pick up a pint and a loaf) but the new-look food halls do, in the round, seem to target the more affluent. That said, with M&S, perhaps it was ever thus.


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