The firm has been working for the past 18 months to ensure its all-important Christmas range proves a commercial success, the retailer’s Annabel Vere-Nicoll told an innovation conference organised by Leatherhead Food Research (LFR) last week.
It will be selling its hamper ranges (see picture) online from tomorrow, Tuesday October 4.
“We have a rigorous stage-gate [selection] process to bring these products to market,” said Vere-Nicoll. “We are interested in innovators and early adopters [of new technologies and designs] and taking that to a mass market.”
M&S has undertaken consumer research through its so-called ‘Hamleys project’, to better understand how people make purchasing decisions.
This year the upmarket retailer will be working harder than ever to compete with other retailers to attract cash-strapped consumers through its doors, she said.
It’s all about focusing on the “post crash consumer” who is interested in values such as local foods and ethically produced products. “A reaction to the ‘bling’ of the ‘80s and ‘90s,” she said.
However, last month concern was expressed by suppliers about M&S’s decision under the leadership of its new chief executive Marc Bolland to move into supplying premium imported speciality foods. “This is a new age for us,” said Vere-Nicoll.
The move is part of M&S’s strategy to recapture its upmarket ‘foodie image’ and regain sales from competitors such as Waitrose, by taking advantage of its reputation for quality and its global network of innovation.
M&S’s team of developers have travelled the globe to source food ideas from internationally renowned chefs and take the latest “inspired by nature” packaging designs and colour combinations from places such as New York.
“Our share increases massively at Christmas,” said Vere-Nicoll. Of particular importance for M&S are “iconic categories”, such as is fresh party food and foods for entertaining. This includes fish and fish deli (which has seen a ten fold uplift in sales); desserts; fresh “convenience solutions”; and gifts such as hampers. But M&S also shifts millions of mince pies and turkey sandwiches too, she added.
On the drinks side, it will be launching the “M&S cocktail shop” and “mixology”, involving boutique vodka cocktail brands for gifts, available from this month [October].
Expect to see a lot more “things on sticks”, such as bacon “lollies” and crispy pork crackling straws, as well as wraps this year, she said. To aid consumer convenience, there will also be an emphasis on boneless added value turkey joints, as well as venison and game.
Natural packaging designs will feature in the range, which will have the requisite levels of innovation and wow factor that customers expect, she said.
In keeping with ‘Plan A’, reusable glassware will also feature. For ambient products, such as cakes, puddings, biscuits and confectionery in particular, plus children’s stocking-fillers, attractive natural packaging will be high profile with a “Winter Wonderland” theme.
Meanwhile, M&S’s planning for Christmas 2012 has begun already.