This is Not Just M&S Gin, It's Not Even M&S Gin

Last Updated Mar 8, 2010 12:06 PM EST

Getting my usual lunch-time sandwich from the local Marks & Spencer, I noticed a bit of merchandising near the tills about the store stocking branded products, such as Flora Margarine, Marmite and Gordon's gin.

This is quite a departure for M&S, which has traditionally only sold own-brand products. The move undermines this customer identity in quite a large way, and is bound to have implications for the retailer's price proposition, if customers can now make firm like-for-like comparisons on products with the pricing in other supermarkets.

It's not entirely clear how this shift in strategy for food has come about, but it's interesting it has come after the highly-rated head of food at M&S and suitor for the CEO position, Steven Esom left last July. At the time, the food business at the retailer was doing badly, but not out of line with other supermarket retailers.

Could it be the first sign of bigger strategy shifts at M&S as former Morrisons boss Marc Bolland takes up the reins as CEO? Much has been made of Bolland's £15m golden hello, but little has got out about which direction he wants to take the retailer in, once he gets in gear.

If more branded goods do start appearing on M&S shelves, how will its traditionally conservative customer base react? Just fine, if the price is right and this is probably what's behind the decision to bring brands like Marmite and Gordons in to the fold. It's a recognition that, as consumers become ever more frugal, M&S can't keep customers in its stores for every item in their weekly basket.

What do you think? Can M&S remain the champion of quality own-brand shopping if it stocks branded products?

(Pic: otfrom cc2.0)