How (and why?) M&S are getting it wrong


Yesterday’s blog seemed to hit the right note with many people but the lack of responses from M&S are not going down well.

Selling game in a couple of stores is hardly a make or break decision for M&S – you’d think that a bit of unfavourable reaction would persuade their accountants not to bother.

I would expect the young spotty accountant, not the one with the glasses, to say to the accountant with glasses ‘It’s really not worth the hassle.  We don’t know if these, what are they called, grouse, are going to sell anyway.  Although most of these people will forget to avoid us after a while there wouldn’t have to be many people who were annoyed by us on this subject to make the whole thing a bit of a failure.  Let’s quietly can it.‘.

And the accountant with glasses would say ‘Quite right. I agree. Nobody told us about lead and hen harriers and greenhouse gases – crikey, this game stuff is very complicated.‘.

And that would be it.  And maybe that’s what will happen soon. We’ll see  – because we (you and I) will not go away, or forget, or be generous with M&S, because they are handling this badly and losing our respect.

1.  M&S isn’t responding to questions on Twitter – they are being anti-social on social media and that looks arrogant and stand-offish.  Why have a Twitter account (@marksandspencer) if you aren’t going to interact with people?

2.  M&S hasn’t even responded by saying ‘we’ve had lots of questions on this subject and we’ll get back to you soon’ which at least would be an acknowledgement and a way of playing for time – but they haven’t bothered to do that.

3.  M&S is sending out standard replies which quite clearly do not answer the questions that individuals asked – that looks arrogant and/or uncaring too.

4.  The factual quality of the answers is low – they aren’t impressing their questioners at all, and so M&S is looking inept.

5.  The emotional quality of the answers is terribly poor – M&S give the strong impression that they don’t give a damn what their customers think, we can all take our custom elsewhere if we like.


Those are some of the ways that they are getting it wrong.  But why are they getting it wrong? Why did they not, it appears, consult anyone who could have told them they were blundering into this controversy poorly equipped? Why do they not appear to know what they are talking about? Why are they not showing any sign of empathy with their customers?  Why are they simply batting back all enquiries? Why are they getting it so wrong?

It could be that the person with brains in M&S is on holiday. It might be that they are an inept and arrogant company – but that isn’t how they have come across to me up until now.  It could be that they are playing for time – just not doing it very well.

Or maybe it is because they didn’t get into this area through a misguided piece of market research which they now regret but maybe, just maybe, as I am guessing, they got into it on a senior manager’s whim and they haven’t done due diligence.  Might there be a senior manager in M&S who is so powerful that he, or she, could call the shots in this way?  Is there one who might be a keen grouse shooter who was doing this as a favour to her or his mates?

We cannot possibly know.

Marc Bolland, the M&S boss looks an interesting type – oh, and he does a bit of shooting according to the Daily Mail.  Maybe he could enlighten us.  I wonder where he is now? Can he smell the cordite in the air as he feels the recoil pad of the stock snug against his shoulder? Does the heather look nice?  I think we should be told.

Well, we certainly should be told something – and at the moment M&S aren’t saying much.

But there is a great opportunity to tweet your questions to @marksandspencer to a live Q&A with #Ask Rosie at 1pm today.  See you there?

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33 Replies to “How (and why?) M&S are getting it wrong”

  1. Morning Mark,

    I'd be very suprised if M&S sold grouse or any game resulting from a shoot. Whilst 'sourced' from shooting estates is suitably generic I cannot see them packaging lead laced birds for sale. I may be wrong.

    As you know I am in support of a broad range of issues you raise on here - but I cannot help but think that if these are grouse resulting from shoots (I am not sure they are) selling them is better than wasting them?

    I am not condoning shooting / raptor persecution but it would seem short sighted not to make use of the resulting meat?

    Later in the year there will a glut of Pheasant from the shoot on my local patch. I'd rather M&S made use of them than they were chucking in a snare lined pit with all the associated issues...

    In essence I don't think rattling M&S's cage will have meaningful effect. As such, on this occasion I am saving my vitriol.

    All the best,


    1. Jonny - 'sourced from a shooting estate' means 'shot with lead on a grouse moor'. Red grouse are not bred for release (unlike pheasants and partridges). And it is the grouse shooters who are the most opposed to the replacement of lead shot with non-toxic shot. So, undoubtedly if M&S were to sell their 'lead laced' birds to the public , anyone buying them is supporting the economy of the industry that has almost extirpated the hen harrier from England and from large areas of Scotland too. Since the average punter walking in to M&S in Marble Arch may not be told that the 'free-range' grouse on the shelf is the product of highly intensive management of dubious environmental value then i think it is worh pointing this out to them.

      It is, of course, strange that M&S refuses to disclose the locations of the grouse moors that are supplying them - do they have something to hide? If not, why are they hiding it?

      When the elephant has been killed then you might as well make an umbrella stand out of its tusk? And then you support and build a market in ivory.

  2. Think I'd prefer an elephant foot umbrella stand (if I was into that sort of thing).
    It'd probably hold more umbrellas than one made from a tusk.

  3. Hi Mark,
    one thing or several to bear in mind is that the ?Yorkshire Dales the area I know best has habitat for double figure numbers of breeding harriers, they have not bred since 2007, when they did breed they had the highest failure rate of any area in England (circa 70%). Bowland Betty was shot /found on a Yorkshire grouse moor. these same moors have almost no short eared owls and no successful peregrine nests. We cannot accuse all of persecution due to a lack of evidence but circumstances would suggest that most may well be "AT IT", I only know of one where there is definitely no persecution and two where it is most unlikely ( the latter two are not likely to be M&S suppliers as the bag is divided between the guns).
    I personally will no longer buy the few things I did from M&S.

  4. I wonder what moonbat would think of conserving the hen harrier?

    I know very little about upland ecology (or historical upland ecology) but I'd suspect that a lot of our "ancient" moorland was created by us (humans) by deforestation - perhaps in the mesolithic period? I may well be wrong.

    Were there ever lots of hen harriers naturally occurring in the UK (or England in particular) historically - and by that I (literally) mean ages ago?
    Or did we create (and then manage) an ideal habitat for them by felling our ancient forests - giving them a foothold to breed successfully and consistently, before we used their created (and managed) habitat as our sporting arena - and persecuted them for spoiling our fun?

    Should point out here that I am not suggesting that because there might have been tiny numbers of hen harriers in England before we felled our forests, we shouldn't do all we could to try and conserve them (or perhaps reintroduce them to lowland Britain from French stock).
    My wife and I have already decided to boycott M&S (thanks to Mark) until they start answering questions honestly on this subject.

    Just thinking that I bet there are some, who regard hen harriers as here (past tense?) purely because of us and our managed (not so ancient) moorlands, and others who believe it might be best to "rewild" all our uplands....
    I don't know. Perhaps someone can shed some light on this for me.

    All I know is I have been fortunate enough to see an overwintering ring-tail on the ridgeway (down south) one year, a few years ago. I wonder if that will be the last hen harrier I see - and if so, would regard that as a terrible, terrible shame.

    One further question please Mark - do we (you) know why the grouse shooters are the most opposed to the replacement of lead shot with non-toxic shot?

  5. Mark, would it be worth producing a specimen letter/email to send through their website e-address/contact form here:
    (More Product Information option)


    Store Service & Product Quality - Retail Customer Services

    Marks & Spencer
    Chester Business Park
    Wrexham Road
    CH4 9GA

    Personally, I do not shop at M&S because there is nothing that I cannot get elsewhere and cheaper. However, in my experience, specimen letters seem to work best even if the response is quite slow. Ad hoc contact is often seen in a divide-and-conquer light but the company/organisation is far more likely to react and/or respond if they realise there is definite campaign going on.

    1. Ian - yes, but I'm giving M&S a few days to get their act together. Their first opportunity is in their live Q&A on Twitter at 1pm today. @marksandspencer #AskRosie

  6. Sometimes it is difficult for large organisations to deal with issues like this very quickly. I imagine that the technologist responsible has been tasked with investigating many of the issues raised, this may involve supplier visits and obviously a deal of research to get up to speed on some of the issues raised.

    I also believe that M&S selling grouse is a significant opportunity, far from writing and asking for them not to stock grouse perhaps we should be encouraging them to do so. A good income for the grouse moors could lead to M&S having a degree of influence. It would not be beyond the bounds of possibility to see M&S source grouse that were shot with lead alternatives for example. Or perhaps from grouse moors that signed up to support diversionary feeding in the event of a HH breeding attempt.
    M&S could hold the threat of immediate disqualification as an approved supply source for any grouse moors where an employee was convicted of any illegal persecution of raptors.
    Perhaps the lure of high street sales volumes and the associated profits might do more to clean up the industry than any amount of protest we can raise?

    1. Alan - maybe. But M&S haven't made a great start have they? They appear not to know about the issues and not to care about them. They'll have to step up a long way before they convince me that they are capable of being a force for good on this issue. They have a live Twitter Q&A at 1pm @markandspencer #AskRosie . Will they even touch on this issue?

    2. Alan, I am not even sure how they could get the meat past the Food Standards Agency and it is this aspect that we need to watch first. There was a famous Red Dwarf joke that went: 'Mr Henry Le Clerc was today arrested for trying to poison the spring that supplies Perrier water. Experts estimate that had he succeeded the middle classes would have been wiped out in two weeks.' Joking aside it worries me that there is even a hint that a store can get a meat source onto the shelves with this kind of background. Small-scale producers have to jump through hoops (flaming ones at that) to get their products on the market so I am mystified at what is going on here. It would certainly be admirable to avoiding wasting so much food especially with the Faeroese 'grind' underway at the moment but do we want that at the coast of stealth commercialism? Getting the meat on the shelves would also 'semi-legitimise' the source and I am sure this is one of the cynical aims of the exercise given it produces an automatic (albeit, tenuous) pro argument.

      As Mark points out, Marc Bolland is a shooter so I am not sure that M&S would even want to influence the estates in the way we would like, most likely, they would ignore the issues and our concerns.

      1. Ian - game meat has so far escaped the standards set for other meat. Mysterious eh? I bet there is a tale to tell there. If you wanted to sell chicken or turkey you could not sell it with the levels of lead commonly found in grouse bought in shops or from game dealers. Anomaly.

        1. Indeed! Thank you for bringing this issue to our attention, it could easily have slid by unnoticed. I have followed the pro vs anti shooting threads on Bird Forum and chipped in from time to time when I felt the science was being mangled but I would never have considered this subject from this perspective. Certainly, commercialising estates will be used as persuasive argument against the issue of waste but not at the expense of food standards, surely? As you say 'Mysterious eh?'

          Sadly, I do not use Twitter but I will await any ideas for email/letters.

          1. filbert - I'd certainly follow you and Rt you - but maybe you don't inow what that means? 😉

            You'd go down a storm on Twitter with your sardonic wit and pithy phrases - it was almost made for you.

            Give it a try!

  7. I'm not sure we can assume they don't know or don't care at this stage. What is probably fair to assume is that their customer services team weren't briefed to expect any issues and that the responses to date (I have had two now) were written within customer services and not by someone with a technical grasp of the issues.

    The latest response I got yesterday using phrases such as 'not able to comment further at this time' and 'monitoring situation for further review' suggests to me that a cage has been rattled and there will be much going on in the background in case the issue gets bigger.

    1. Alan - or that they are hoping we'll all go away? Rattle, rattle, rattle!

      There certainly is an opportunity for M&S here - will they take it?

      I'm sure M&S are being fed information (which we will never see, and I would love to see it) from the Moorland Association membership, and the Countryside Alliance members. At least the friends of the hen harrier are putting out the information publicly. We'll see which way M&S goes.

      I wonder what their CEO does shoot - apart from himself in the foot? Does anybody know?

  8. Mark,

    Looks like Tom Harvey (Buyer Beef, Lamb and Game) is the M&S man who could/should be providing some answers. I'm not linked-in so can't get contact details, but see

    He was Meat Industry Personality of the year 2010 at the Supermeat Awards. With such high accolade I'm sure he must know what he's on about .....

    Shouldn't make rash assumptions but he looks like a shooting toff.


    1. Tom Harvey: 'Massive fan of anything shooting/game or wine related'

      1. A bit more insight into Tom Harvey:
        Looks like he enjoys a good 'carnage'.

  9. Grousing about extinct harriers yet again ?
    What about the poor old corncrake that was put out of house & home by farmers.

  10. "You’d go down a storm on Twitter"

    Please don't encourage him, Dr Avery. The principal purpose of Cobb's existence is to keep me in a succession of spinach, Cavolo Nero, courgettes, pole beans, tomatoes and flat-leaved parsley and in particular to provide me with a constant and expensive supply of Manuka honey, organic walnuts and sheep's yoghurt. He already is diverted enough from these essential tasks and God knows how he finds time to earn a living anyway it is nearing that time of year when he should be logging and filling the woodshed and he still hasn't sanded and repolished my beautiful reproduction pine loo-seat and cover that he promised he would do so although I don't mid him reading all those dozens of RSS thingies every day as long as he meets his work deadlines I would object to him wasting any more of his time by opening a Tw*tface account.


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