After ten years of greatly lamented absence, the British sausage is returning to Paris; as is Wiltshire cured back bacon and Cornish Cruncher cheese. Marks & Spencer yesterday confirmed that it was opening a new store on the Champs Elysées this autumn.
In a much more ambitious return to the Continent than forecast, M&S will also open a chain of "Simply Food" shops in the French capital next year and it hopes to build several large clothing and food stores in high-class shopping centres in the Paris area.
Despite strong rumours to the contrary, M&S will sell British and other speciality foods – as well as women's fashions and lingerie – in its new flagship store on the Champs Elysées from November. A campaign of distraught emails from Parisiens and British ex-pats, triggered by an article in The Independent, appears to have influenced this decision. More than 400 emails and letters were received from Paris, begging M&S to restore British food supplies, which were cruelly cut off when the company retreated from the Continent 10 years ago.
M&S chief executive, Marc Bolland, insisted yesterday that food had always been part of his plans for the reconquest of France. It appears, however, that the avalanche of messages received from ex-pats and Anglophile Parisiens did encourage the company to slice rapidly through red tape preventing sales of food on its chosen flagship site at 100, Avenue des Champs Elysées. Less than a month ago, French officials pointed out the lease on the site forbade food sales and that M&S had not applied for a licence.
Pamela Lake, a long-term British Parisienne and retired Unesco official – who inspired the email campaign – said yesterday that the news was "absolutely fantastic". "There are many things you simply can't get easily in France," she said. "For instance, English double cream, British sausages and British bacon. French bacon is cut too thin, like tissue paper." The decision to open four M&S Simply Food shops in the French capital next year is part of a long-planned, but previously undisclosed strategy. M&S said yesterday that the plans existed before the Independent-inspired email campaign but that the company had been "delighted" to receive so many "encouraging" messages from Parisiens and ex-pats.
The group is also looking for three or four large sites for menswear, fashion, lingerie and food stores in shopping centres in the Paris area from next year. It has plans, from this November, to launch a French internet site, offering its full range with five-day delivery.
Mr Bolland, the Dutch-born M&S chief executive, presented the plans yesterday, in excellent French, in a press conference at the exclusive Fouquets bar and restaurant opposite the proposed new store. Piles of M&S food lines were on display, ranging from the Cornish Cruncher to Chicken Tikka Massala to Percy Pigs (an M&S confectionery mentioned with longing in the original Independent article). There was also a fashion show by 20 French models dressed, and in some cases scarcely, in M&S fashions and lingerie. The collision of Percy Pigs and see-though underwear at 10am was somewhat destabilising, but the French journalists in attendance seemed to have few complaints.
Mr Bolland said India, China and France were the spearheads of his plans to increase the £500m foreign sales of M&S to £800m within three years.