Marks & Spencer is to establish a specialist food innovation team in the new year with a brief to “create industry-leading products and address some of the biggest sector-wide challenges”.

M&S Food aims for the innovation hub to “supercharge disruptive innovation” by working with technology partners on everything from new food lines that will set the retailer apart through to sustainability issues that span the industry.

M&S said the initiative will take to a new level its track record in food innovation, which includes being the first chain to have sold fresh chicken in the 1960s by developing the ‘cold chain’ process, and the introduction of ‘sell-by’ dates on wrappers, which subsequently became a legal requirement across food retail.

M&S Food managing director Stuart Machin said: “Creating a dedicated team with the sole purpose of driving disruptive innovation will support us in being more relevant to our customers.

“But it’s not just about relevancy today. The innovation hub will enable us to track emerging trends and insights, so we’re one step ahead in responding to our customers’ needs in the future. 

“The team will play a key role in helping us to build an even bigger and better food range and show customers that we’re taking action to address the sustainability issues they care about most.”

The hub will comprise a nine-strong team across packaging, nutrition, product innovation and business development. As well as including existing M&S experts, new appointments will be made.

The hub will be run by former head of food technology for convenience Dom Darby, reporting to April Preston, M&S Food’s director of product development.

The retailer is recruiting a business development manager, packaging innovation manager and product innovation manager ahead of the hub’s launch in January.