Marks & Spencer will open its first Simply Food store outside the UK in the Netherlands as it returns to the country after a 10-year absence.

The first Simply Food store will open in September at a BP forecourt in Utrecht. M&S will open a further five Simply Food stores in Amsterdam, The Hague and Utrecht by November 2013.

The tie-up with BP in the Netherlands builds on the partnership in the UK where there are now over 160 Simply Food stores in BP forecourts and marks the beginning of the expansion of the Simply Food format in Western Europe. M&S said in February it was looking for franchise partners to open Simply Food stores in Paris. 

“We’re coming back in a new way because Holland is one of the most internet-savvy countries in Europe”

Marc Bolland, M&S

M&S marked its return to the Netherlands today by opening a 500 square metre store in Amsterdam’s Kalverstraat shopping street (pictured) and launching a Dutch-language website.

The Kalverstraat store contains a ‘digital rail’alongside a rail of clothing samples allowing customers to shop from the online catalogue. It also contains a number of other features such as in-store order points, staff equipped with iPads and free Wi-Fi that M&S said reflected its‘clicks & bricks’strategy.

Marks and Spencers food hall Amsterdam

Marks & Spencers food hall, Amsterdam store

The store also has a range of 1,400 food lines including sandwiches, salads and wines as well as ready meals and traditional British groceries such as Earl Grey tea and crumpets.

M&S plans to follow the opening of the small Kalverstraat store with two full-line stores – one 4,800 square metre shop in The Hague in 2014 and a 6,100 square metre flagship store in Amsterdam in 2015.

“We’re extremely happy to be coming back to Holland in response to huge customer demand. We’re coming back in a new way because Holland is one of the most internet-savvy countries in Europe,” said M&S CEO Marc Bolland.

Schaffer quits

Meanwhile, in a blow to M&S, it emerged today that its new head of lingerie and beauty Janie Schaffer had quit after just three months.

The former chief creative officer at Victoria’s Secret was recruited as a key figure in a new team led by former M&S food boss John Dixon tasked with turning around M&S’s struggling clothing arm.

Last week, M&S reported a 0.6% increase in like-for-like sales for the 13 weeks to 30 March but sales of general merchandise, which includes clothing and homeware, fell 3.8%.