Anne Bruce
Marks and Spencer wants to acquire "parcels of stores" to accelerate the roll out of the Simply Food small store format.
It plans to open at least 100 Simply Food stores by 2005, as well as 40 sites on railway stations in partnership with catering giant Compass.
And it is also looking at opportunities to take the format into the Irish Republic.
Marks and Spencer chief executive Roger Holmes said Simply Food would be rolled out in high traffic locations, such as airports, motorway service stations and petrol stations, but no deals had yet been signed.
Chairman Luc Vandevelde said the company had looked at and rejected T&S's and Alldays' portfolios. "Tesco will be able to retain 70% of T&S stores, whereas M&S would have only been able to retain 30%." Holmes said: "We are pursuing similar superb opportunities like the Compass deal. But only a small minority of stores are suitable. Simply Food outlets are not convenience stores."
Marks and Spencer food business unit director Justin King said Simply Food was a good way for M&S to increase market penetrations: 70% of the UK population is more than 10 minutes away from a full-size M&S store.
Gaining planning permission was also easier. "Simply Food is complementary for adjacent retailers, and M&S can make a compelling argument to planners," he said. M&S also wants to expand its portfolio of larger neighbourhood food dominated stores, "although the numerical opportunity is not as great".
"We need 12 months lead time for planning, whereas Simply Food applications come through much quicker."
Chief financial officer Alison Reed said returns per square foot from the first two Simply Food stores in Twickenham and Surbiton, south-west London, were more than Marks and Spencer food average, although operating costs were higher, mainly due to staffing issues.
The company's pre-tax profit rose to £285.3m from £213.3m last year on turnover up 7.9% to £3.7bn for the 26 weeks to September 28, 2002.
Food like-for-like sales increased by 6% in the second quarter and were up 3.6% over the first half.

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