Shoppers at many Marks & Spencer (M&S) stores in England will be charged 5p for a plastic bag, the company announced today.
The chain will extend the charge to 33 stores in the South West, starting in February next year, following a 16-week trial in its Northern Ireland stores.
M&S says the move is part of a drive to cut the number of bags used – in the Northern Ireland trial, there was a 66% reduction as customers used alternative bags.
M&S in South West
Shoppers at all M&S stores in Dorset, Somerset, Gloucestershire, Devon, and Cornwall will get a free Bag for Life when they buy food in January next year.
Then, from 3 February, M&S will start charging 5p for a carrier, and the Bag for Life will revert to costing 10p.
M&S says that if the customer response is encouraging, it will roll out the scheme to the whole UK.
From January, M&S will convert production of all its standard carriers used in the 33 trial stores to bags made from 100% recycled waste. All profits from the sale of standard carriers will go to an environmental charity, Groundwork UK.
The retailing giant also announced better-than-expected profits today, while warning of an ‘uncertain’ economic outlook.
The company shrugged off the impact of the poor summer weather and a major store refurbishment programme to post underlying pre-tax profits of £451.8 million for the half-year to September 29, 11.5% ahead of last year and ahead of consensus City forecasts.
UK like-for-like sales across the group grew by just 1.6% in the first half in the tough trading conditions.
Chief Executive Stuart Rose, who has overseen a recovery in fortunes at the retailer, said: ‘Whilst the short-term economic outlook remains uncertain, the actions we have taken to reposition and revitalise M&S over the last three years put us in a good position to continue to outperform.’
The firm reported like-for-like sales of 1.2% in the period between July and September – representing a slowdown from the 2% sales growth seen in the first quarter of the year – but M&S put this down to the ‘significant disruption’ from its refurbishment plans as well as the tougher retailing environment.
M&S has relaunched flagship stores in Belfast, Cheshunt, Edinburgh, Lisburn and London Colney in the past six weeks and the chain is hoping to have 70% of stores revamped in time for the crucial Christmas season.
The group has also unveiled Hollywood star Antonio Banderas to front a new advertising campaign in the approach to the busiest trading period of the year.
During the first half, an expansion of the firm’s Autograph clothing range helped lift general merchandising 2.3% on a like-for-like basis. Strong-selling menswear, womenswear and lingerie also helped the retailer lift its clothing market share to 11%.
M&S opened 62 of its Simply Food stores over the half, although overall like-for-like food sales grew by just 0.5%.
The firm added that sales of healthy foods under its Eat Well brand now account for around 30% of its ranges, while organic sales have grown by more than 40%.