News that M&S is to open a food on the move outlet this week is interesting but what are its chance of success?

Pret a manger, Eat, Wasabi, Upper Crust, Starbucks, West Cornwall Pasty Co and on and on and on. Many of these names will be familiar as the kind of place where you ‘grab and go’ prior to boarding the 07.28 to Milton Keynes or to stave off the lunchtime munchies. They all do more or less the same thing – provide a food and drink service that varies from prepared sandwiches to ready-meals as well as hot and cold beverages.

And besides the chains there are any independent operators offering a similar service. For the most part they are found close to main line stations or in areas that disgorge office workers between 12 and 2, Monday to Friday and they all fulfil a requirement – food on the move. Now Marks & Spencer is set to join their number with the first  ‘M&S Food on the Move’ store next to London’s Baker Street tube station, to be operated by its Simply Food travel location franchise partner Whistlestop.

In doing so, it joins Sainsbury’s which opened its Fresh Kitchen format at the beginning of the year in central London and which, to date, it shows no sign of replicating. At the time of opening, Sainsbury’s offered hot and cold drinks and prepared or bespoke sarnies – across the counter at the back of the shop.

The same offer could be seen in around half a dozen other places along Fleet Street and truth be told, most of them were are least as good as Sainsbury’s, albeit the supermarket’s offer was considerably cheaper. And there perhaps is the point. This is a crowded marketplace where margins are generally better than most supermarkets could dream of – so the prime differentiator for a supermarket entrant has to be price.

Office workers seem quite prepared to pay well over the odds for convenience – which is probably why there are so many operators. Digging out a niche in this arena is therefore a lot trickier than the straightforward provision of, erm, provisions. What M&S and its franchise partner have to do if this is not to be a one-off is to trade on the goodwill that the retailer’s name tends to generate while at the same time offering something that is not readily available in M&S stores. In fairness, M&S has in-store form for this within its in-store ‘Kitchen’ and ‘Food on the Move’ outlets, so on balance it would seem to have a better chance of success than some of its rivals who are trying to break into the territory fresh.  This remains a tough spot to make a mark in however a standalone Food on the Move may remain a trial. Hard not wonder too what Mr Bolland will have to say about this at tomorrow’s interims.