Organic food at vastly inflated prices has been steadily finding
its way into supermarkets in increasing quantities for some time now
Gestures have been made towards ecological issues with the offer of
paper bags, dump bins for recycling plastic carriers and the like. All
perfectly good and ethical steps, directed (one suspects) at the PR
advantage as much as at eco action.
With the decision to stop selling any eggs from battery hens M&S has
upped the stakes in a serious way.
This is a far cry from offering a few organically grown carrots imported
from Holland (currently M&S are unusual in not stocking some token
organic food). It is, or certainly appears to be, a serious commitment
to ethical responsibility in the food chain by a serious retailer.
M&S has seized the high ground on an issue which has become of interest
to many more than the relatively small groups of committed Greens and
animal rights activists.
In the wake of scandal after scandal, culminating in the BSE crisis, the
whole question of food production has become one of increasing concern
to the public at large. In particular it has impacted on the middle
class consumers who are typical Marks and Spencer food shoppers.
Media coverage of this decision has not been as heavy as one might have
expected but it has been good and, more importantly, has been serious
and approving and in the right places.
Moreover, this is likely to be a story which will run and run and M&S is
in the enviable position of being trailblazers.
In the view of this judge and jury, M&S has scored a PR coup and has
done so by making a decision whose significance goes much deeper than
just public relations. And M&S has handled it in just the right way -
serious reportage of an ethical decision, taken by a responsible
As a tiny shareholder in an organic farm, and someone who bans all
chemicals not approved by the Soil Association from garden and
allotment, I may not be the most unbiased judge but I, for one, will
feel better about paying the premium prices charged for food by M&S in
the future, even though I can’t buy my cigarettes there.