Marks & Spencer chief executive Marc Bolland aims to introduce the first of a raft of exclusive international food brands to selected stores this October.

Bolland last year identified the introduction of 100 “distinctive international brands” as a key plank in his food strategy designed to emphasise the uniqueness of the M&S offer.

He wants to unveil the first of the brands this autumn, in new-model pilot stores with an improved shopping environment and an offer more closely tailored to local demographics.

Food was the star performing category in M&S’s first quarter, when sales rose 3.3% like-for-like and market share increased by 10 basis points to 3.8%.

He said that M&S had outperformed in food because its products are not available elsewhere. “You find so many products in our store that you don’t find in supermarkets,” he said. “We don’t have to fight over brand promotions and brand prices.”

Bolland attributed the rise in part to the extent of innovation at the food division, which launched 500 new products in the period, and was helped by consumers’ preference at present to treat themselves while eating at home.

He said: “People are keen to protect their summer holidays so they’re reducing spending in some areas, they’re cutting back on dining out.”

Bolland said that M&S had put in a “good performance in a challenging market” during the quarter.

He said that the summer Sale was phased this year. An earlier start than last year, with limited discounting, was reflective of the promotional retail environment and was followed by a full Sale launch yesterday.

The retailer made no comment on margin during the quarter but said full-year margin would be in line with earlier guidance, flat to 25 basis points up for the business as a whole.

M&S performance

M&S first quarter to July 2 (figures exclusive of VAT)

  • Group sales +3.2%
  • Total UK sales +2.7% (General merchandise +0.3%; food +5%)
  • UK like-for-likes +1.7% (General merchandise 0%; food +3.3%)