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Will M&S switching to food affect its stores in Suffolk and Essex?

PUBLISHED: 19:30 18 March 2019

M&S at Martlesham. Is this the future of the company in this area? Picture: GREGG BROWN

M&S at Martlesham. Is this the future of the company in this area? Picture: GREGG BROWN

Just weeks after it emerged that Marks and Spencer was looking for site for a new food store in west Ipswich, the company has confirmed it plans to move more towards its grocery business rather than clothing.

Marks and Spencer in Ipswich - could the food hall be expanded?Marks and Spencer in Ipswich - could the food hall be expanded?

This will prompt fears for the future of town centre stores like those in Ipswich, Colchester and Bury St Edmunds – but could lead to the opening of large food halls in town centres.

The boss of M&S’ food operation, Stuart Machin, has written to suppliers saying that he hopes the company will compete with major supermarkets like Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Tesco and not be merely seen as a “luxury” or “top-up” store.

The company is looking to open more large food halls of 12-15,000 square feet, slightly larger than the store they have at Martlesham Heath.

The move is set to come as the company launches a delivery service with the online supermarket Ocado – replacing Waitrose as its major suppliers towards the end of next year.

At present the average shopper in an M&S food hall spends about £13. The average Ocado shopper spends £100 a time. Bosses want to increase the number of people using their food halls for the weekly shop.

This could mean that some stores will see their food halls expanded – in Ipswich the food section is only about half of the ground floor of the three-storey shop. Or it could mean that the town centre stores are closed while new supermarkets with easy parking are opened outside town centres.

It is understood M&S is having difficulty finding anywhere in the Ipswich area. They had considered the former Toys R Us site at Copdock, but this was not possible because Tesco has a covenant preventing another food store opening on the retail park.

The company’s town centre store could be saved by the presence of the NCP car park behind it, allowing shoppers to carry their groceries straight out to their car – but this is often full and can be expensive.

The stores in Bury St Edmunds and Colchester are not near large car parks – in Bury there is parking outside on some days, but not when the market is in town.

When the company’s strategy was launched last May it announced 100 of its 314 town centre stores would close by 2022. Clacton has closed and Felixstowe is due to shut on April 27.

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