Anyone familiar with upmarket British supermarket chain Marks & Spencer might not expect one of its star fruit and veg performers over the past year to be a two-kilo bag of potatoes.

That’s not to say it has stopped innovating at the premium end of the market – something proven by the launch of an easy-peeler grapefruit, or the three million home delivery fruit and veg boxes it sold during the UK’s first lockdown.

but with the pandemic turning received wisdom on its head in the last 12 months, the impressive growth achieved by every single item of fresh produce in the retailer’s value range Remarksable does seem to make sense.

As Lisa Raschia, head of trading in fresh produce, horticulture and frozen at M&S, explains, interest in those value lines and, crucially, demand for simpler products that can be used in home-cooked dishes is notably higher than it was this time last year.

As a result, the company is managing to change perceptions about the kind of service it offers its customers.

“The upside [of the pandemic] is that, in less than 12 months, we’ve achieved some of the hardest bits we were going after, which is really around attracting family shoppers, and attracting more of a large basket shop,” she tells Chris White in the latest episode of Fruitnet’s conversation series Fruitbox.

“We’ve always been known more as a prepared and convenience produce retailer,” she says. “But for us, Remarksable has been really strong. It performed brilliantly through lockdown one and we added lines to the range for the September launch. It’s doing fantastically.”

While the Remarksable 2kg potato line may be the biggest success story, with sales up almost 200 per cent on the year, the whole range is performing strongly, says Raschia, with even the worst performer up 25 per cent.

“Clearly there is this trend towards value, towards great quality at a great price,” she adds, “but also clearly scratch cooking, because these are all whole-head produce that people have to do something with. We’ve seen more lunch occasions coming through too – so salads really buoyant, peppers 50 per cent up, salad onions nearly 40 per cent up.”

M&S shoppers are also looking more and more for products thought to help their immunity. “Ginger’s up 100 per cent, we’ve tripled our sales on turmeric, citrus is up 15 per cent on the year but actually in lockdown one the sales level was so extreme that we launched a nutrition campaign called Eat in Colour where we tried to highlight other products on the shelf that were high in Vitamin C or any immunity benefits.”

Raschia goes on to consider other recent trends affecting fresh produce, including the rise of the online retail channel (in which M&S is now heavily involved in partnership with Ocado) and the challenge of having so many of its convenience stores closed.

Hosted by Chris White in London, Fruitbox now attracts a big audience across the global fruit and vegetable business that tunes in every week to hear exclusive interviews and expert analysis. Produced by Fruitnet Media International, the show is essential listening for everyone in the fresh produce industry.

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Produced by Fruitnet Media International, the show is essential listening for everyone in the fresh produce industry.

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