No apologies for returning to the biggest story of the week, the trials of Marks & Spencer. After all, food is at the root of its problems.
To put the 4.5 per cent first quarter like-for-like decline that it revealed this week into context, here are the most recent like-for-like figures (excluding fuel) reported by the other quoted grocers: Sainsburys plus 3.4 per cent, Tesco plus 3.5 per cent, Morrisons plus 7 per cent. M&S’s nearest rival Waitrose today reported that total sales were up 5.8 per cent on a little-changed store base in the first 22 weeks of its financial year.
So how has it gone quite so wrong? Sir Stuart Rose attributed 40 per cent of the blame to the company and 60 per cent to the market. As an executive at a rival grocer said to me this week, “Does he think we were all born yesterday?”
You don’t underperform a market so badly without good reason and Rose identified availability and price as key areas where the business will have to sharpen up its act. While being as dignified as one would expect about someone who he’d fired that morning, he hinted strongly on Wednesday that M&S food had not been as fleet of foot as he would have wanted under Esom.
Certainly the heavy newspaper promotion of its dine-in-for-£10 promotion over the past couple of days is something we’re likely to see more of. M&S food is of excellent quality, but however good it is, shoppers rich and poor still expect decent value for money. M&S doesn’t need to be as cheap as Aldi, but it does need to be competitive and promotional.
Food retailing is hard and ruthlessly competitive. Esom’s replacement John Dixon is M&S through and through and – unlike Rose and the majority of his senior team – has food experience. These factors make him a good choice for the very big job thatt lies ahead of him.