Marks & Spencer recruits industry veteran to turn around food halls

Marks & Spencer has ousted the boss of its upmarket food halls and drafted in supermarket industry veteran Stuart Machin with a brief to cut prices and improve the food ranges.

Machin, whose career has included stints at Asda, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, worked with M&S chairman Archie Norman in Australia on the turnaround of Coles Supermarkets. Last year Norman warned that M&S had been “drifting” for more than 15 years and pledged to lead a radical shake-up of the business alongside chief executive Steve Rowe.

As a result of Machin’s appointment, the current food boss, Andy Adcock, will leave M&S at the end of April. He joined M&S’s food arm in 2009 as commercial director and was only promoted to the top job in the summer of 2015.

“We face challenges in our food business and we have lots to do to change, fast,” said Rowe. “Stuart is an excellent addition to our team. He gets food retailing and he has first class experience of driving change in big food retailers.”

Until recently M&S’s food halls had been its jewel in the crown amid a long running slump in clothing sales. But over the past year its performance has deteriorated with Rowe warning that its prices were too high at a time when the mainstream grocers had raised the bar in ready meals and other convenience foods. It had also made mistakes, axing products that customers had missed, while an attempt to cut back on waste resulted in gaps on shelves. More recently M&S said it was putting the brakes on ambitious food store opening plans.

“At M&S we need to sharpen our prices, improve our products, drive profitability and grow market share,” continued Rowe. “Stuart is the right leader to get on and deliver these changes.”

Machin, who starts next month, is the latest in a series of appointments that are part of a turnaround that also involves a major shake up of its UK store estate. His role mirrors that of former Halfords boss, Jill McDonald, who took charge of its struggling clothing and homewares business last year. M&S has also recently enlisted the services of business guru Julian Richer, the founder of Richer Sounds, to advise it on culture change.

Machin is joining from the furniture arm of troubled South African group, Steinhoff, where he ran the Bensons for Beds and Harveys chains. “My heart lies in food retail,” he said. “The business has many reasons to be proud of its food offer but there are also opportunities and lots to deliver under the transformation plan Steve has laid out.”