Marks and Spencer investigated the possibility of relaxing its policy of only selling own label food but decided against it, chairman Luc Vandevelde revealed this week. Speaking exclusively to The Grocer, he said M&S did some work on the implications of stocking brands other than St Michael. "But we decided own label was central to the success of our food. We would compromise that if we even let one brand of the likes of Coke in." The only non-St Michael products M&S would ever carry are newspapers and magazines, he said. "These are essential to customer convenience, and we can't do our own version!" For the 26 weeks to September 29, M&S reported interim pre-tax profit up 20.1% to £220.3m on group turnover down 0.3% to £3.22bn. UK retail operating profit increased 18.2% to £147.4m boosted by improved sourcing together with the containment of operating costs. Food sales were up 4.2% on a like-for-like basis, and will be a central growth area as the retailer builds on its "fundamental strengths". Innovative products are in the pipeline, and the reach of the food offer will be extended through new formats such as Simply Food c-stores, the tie-up with the Compass chain at railway stations, and a increase in WHSmith sites carrying M&S sandwiches. Vandevelde said: "We have identified 20 new sites for Simply Food convenience style stores, and we are very excited about the potential of the format. "Our two trial sites are exceeding expectations, with revenues per sq ft above M&S's average." Further standalone food stores will also be added to the current portfolio of 20. Vandevelde said: "It is too early to start talking about a turnaround, but the glass is definitely half full. These improved results are the first hard evidence that the changes we have made are working. We now have fewer but more important priorities and have made tangible progress in each area." M&S is set to return to the TV screens with an advertising campaign starting next week. {{NEWS }}