M&S expands in India, with plans for 50 new stores

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Marks & Spencer, the quintessentially British high-street retailer, is piling into India as it looks to take advantage of the country's burgeoning middle class and boost revenues from overseas sales.

M&S is to invest almost £15m in a joint venture with local group Reliance Retail, to help establish M&S as a "major retail brand in India".

The group first opened in Delhi in 2001 and now operates 14 stores in the region. An M&S spokeswoman said: "We earmarked India as it is a developing market with a growing middle class."

The research group McKinsey has predicted the Indian middle class would grow to 315 million people by 2015, and M&S sees a huge opportunity there. "We are a mid-market retailer," the spokeswoman added.

The stores in India will sell clothing and homewares, although as yet it has no plans to sell food. Under the terms of the joint venture, it will open 50 stores over the next five years.

Carl Leaver, M&S's director of international business, said there was already a strong demand for the group's products in India. "We intend to open bigger stores, selling a wider range of products at lower prices, including a growing number of products sourced from local suppliers," he said.

The structure of the deal will see M&S take a 51 per cent interest in the newly created Marks & Spencer Reliance India, with the local group owning the rest. The two companies will invest £29m between them initially, "with both parties agreeing to provide further funding in the future".

M&S overlooked its existing partner Planet Retail in favour of the bigger Reliance. The spokeswoman said the new partnership would allow M&S to expand more rapidly.

The UK group said in yesterday's statement the move is part of its strategy "to grow its international business to between 15 and 20 per cent of group revenues within the next five years".