Marks and Spencer is set to expand its food-only store portfolio dramatically by opening 150 sites over the next three years and creating 5,000 new jobs.
The company will also open Simply Food stores across 10 travel hubs in Paris, after bosses revealed that its So Ouest store in the French capital generated more sales per square foot than any other international M&S.
The expansion means food sales are likely to continue growing at the expense of its other products, including clothing, with food already accounting for 55 per cent of sales in the UK.
General merchandise has struggled in recent years, with sales falling for the past nine quarters, leading to several senior management changes.
Its food division has grown for four years in a row and M&S controls 6 per cent of the chilled and fresh food market in the UK with 21 million customers, despite being best known as a clothes retailer. The chief executive, Marc Bolland, said: “Our food business has gone from strength to strength under our plans to transform M&S. We’ve delivered 15 quarters of like-for-like growth in the UK and have opened food stores in cities like Amsterdam and Paris.”
About 30 M&S-owned food-only stores will open next year, primarily in out-of-town locations, with Mr Bolland explaining that a key part of the current Simply Food recipe for success is access to a car park. A further 30 stores will be opened by franchisees in travel locations such as train stations and petrol stations.
The company hopes to move into more premium and speciality foods, with bosses believing its biggest rival, Waitrose, is focusing on basic products, leaving M&S able to corner the market.
There are also plans to introduce new lines of wheat and dairy-free ranges and baby foods, while £20m has been spent on improving quality. But Mr Bolland said M&S still has no plans to move into online shopping.