M&S hospitality head outlines new concepts

Marks & Spencer’s hospitality chief Jason Danciger is part of a real success story for foodservice in multiple retailing, reports Michael Jones


At the CESA, FCSI and BHA annual conference on 15 November in Windsor, UK, one of the standout speakers was Jason Danciger, head of hospitality and counters for British high street royalty Marks & Spencer.

Danciger, a former chef who earned his spurs in the kitchens of the Roux brothers, Roy Ackerman and Justin de Blank, was previously with SFI, Spirit Group and Café Rouge before joining M&S to head up a division of the retailer responsible for 450 in-store bakeries, 45 food hall deli counters, 305 M&S Café’s and 100 M&S Eateries. Each area vital to “defining a symbiant link with retail,” said Danciger.

“M&S is a major player in the hospitality business and is growing its offer with new concepts,” he said. “We’re offering great people, great opportunities. We have over 300 cafes, making us the 4th biggest in the UK by sites (3rd by turnover) and we also have over 100 eateries, making M&S one of the biggest restaurant businesses in the UK, We have 40 eateries in international markets, including one of the top 10 cafes in China (Shanghai). Hospitality is a major part of the M&S business.”

The hospitality division of M&S employs 10,000 staff from an overall work force of 70,000. “We offer M&S/FTSE100 benefits and a 127-year-old company in a typically transient industry,” said Danciger. “We are pushing the boundaries of high street hospitality and growing the business.”

Jason Danciger

Danciger is currently 18 months into its ‘Concept 11’ new store programme to overhaul declining aspects of its business with new style in-store bakeries, food hall deli counters & new format cafes and eateries.

“Our bakeries used to be behind market in terms of sales and volume and we were viewed as clinical, un-inspiring, out of touch and with below average food hall profitability,” said Danciger.

“Now we have food made, baked and prepared in our delis and bakeries being served in our cafes and eateries. We’re recruiting specialist, skilled people as part of pilot store programme and hundreds more with roll out.” Whilst also helping to drive the purchase of other items in the stores, the new look bakeries have ensured that profitability has tripled alongside area record breaking like for like growth.

Similarly the revamped food hall deli counters have helped to enhance the shopping experience for customers, boosting the store’s food credentials. “We’ve had great feedback from customers,” said Danciger, pointing to “a positive halo effect” that he attributes to a renewed focus on driving sales “whilst managing costs.” M&S has planned another five deli hall counters sites by March 2014.

“We want to create theatre in the food hall,” said Danciger, describing how they requested their manufacturer suppliers give them more “va-va-voom” with the equipment they are installing on site. Now, Ferrari red pasta machines and imposing meat slicing machines add fun as well as function and form, while rotisserie ovens actually roast chicken in front of chickens, rather than just serving as heat lamps, as in most other supermarkets. “If equipment gives us ‘a story’ and has the right energy credentials, then we’ll pay a higher price for it,” he said.

The new M&S Café’s are helping to drive footfall to the store according to Danciger. “Here we can really look after M&S’s best customers, showcase M&S foods and keep customers shopping longer,” he said. The M&S Cafe is one of the most profitable areas in store and accountable for 2% of total food group margin. The story is very similar for the 100+ M&S Eateries which Danciger described as serving to “drive a younger demographic to stores.”

Danciger also described “significant expansion plans in both franchise & international markets” on the horizon. Current operations include 60 international in-store bakeries, 40 cafés and eateries and 10 franchise/outlet venues while additional cafés & bakeries will open in Saudi, Shanghai, Jersey and two more large cafes in Paris later this year.

“We’ve had five years of solid growth in the grimmest recession. Why? Because we’ve kept driving innovation in that time,” said Danciger. “It’s harder to create your own brand and grow it, rather than just buying another brand, as Tesco did with Giraffe,” he said.

Eighteen months into the new store programme, with numerous awards under their belt, happy and engaged customers and diminishing queuing times, Danciger is still striving to achieve more. “We used to get it wrong, now we now get it right most of time. I’m a perfectionist. I’ll never be satisfied because I want everything to work perfectly. Hospitality and retail is about a better understanding of customer flow. When it’s fully part of our DNA, I’ll be happy. We’re probably two to three years off that,” he said.

Michael Jones