Marks & Spencer Retreats From France Again, Blaming Brexit
British retailer Marks & Spencer Group Plc is closing 11 of its franchise stores in France after struggling to keep the shelves filled with fresh food following Brexit.
The “long and complex export processes” following Britain’s departure from the European Union have made it difficult to supply the stores from the U.K., the London-based company said Thursday. The markets, run with franchisee SFH, are set to close by the end of this year.
“M&S has a long history of serving customers in France and this is not a decision we or our partner SFH have taken lightly,” said Paul Friston, the company’s managing director for international business.
Nine other M&S franchise stores, run by Lagardere SA at French airports and train stations, will remain open. The two companies are making progress on discussions over “a sustainable future business model,” M&S said.
The post-Brexit issues Marks & Spencer has run into involve the strict regulations controlling the export of food from Britain, where much of the chain’s chilled products are made, into the EU. The rules are leading to border delays, making items with a very short shelf life, such as freshly-made sandwiches, unsellable.
Similar issues led M&S to remove fresh and chilled products from its stores in the Czech Republic in April. Instead, it doubled the ranges of frozen and ambient products, which are easier to export from the U.K.
Archie Norman, chairman of M&S, criticized in a recent public letter the “byzantine, pointless and honestly pettifogging” bureaucracy following Brexit. Complex rules and excessive paperwork already forced the company to cut 800 lines in its Republic of Ireland stores, including such items as free-range chicken, orchids or goods containing Parmesan Reggiano, he said.
This is the second time M&S has had to retreat from the French market and comes a decade after it announced its return, opening a number of stores including one on the Champs Elysees, Paris’s most famous shopping street. It has since shuttered that and other large outlets it operated independently.
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