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New Marks and Spencer Food Hall opens at Hempstead Valley Shopping Centre

When you are the Managing Director of Food for Marks and Spencer and need to decide which store will be the first in the country to get a multimillion pound makeover, chosing the one where your family shops is probably going to go down quite well at home.

And, that's exactly what Stuart Machin did when he took over the role in April last year.

15 months later and the new M&S Food Hall at Hempstead Valley Shopping Centre in Medway has opened - promising to be bigger, better, fresher and more relevant to families.

As soon as you walk into the store, which has almost doubled in size to 16,900 sq ft, if feels very different to any other supermarket.

Gone are the high shelves where you struggle to reach products at the top, and in come spacious aisles where a lot of the food is laid out in a 'French market style'.

The company are also clearly trying to do their bit when it comes to reducing single use plastic with much of the fruit and veg sold in paper bags, little cardboard boxes or just loose.

One of the stand-out products are red bananas from Ecuador - and this is the first store in the country to stock them.

The shop has cut down on single use plastic
The shop has cut down on single use plastic

Onto the bakery, and attention to detail means we know exactly when the ovens are working thanks to a big red light.

Loaves are left unwrapped and piled in stands looking more like an artisan loaves collection than a traditional supermarket bread counter.

But, alongside the new touches there are still the familiar M&S offerings.

The bakery section of the Food Hall at M&S
The bakery section of the Food Hall at M&S

Greeters will now welcome shoppers to the store and help with any enquiries and send children in the direction of their own mini-trolleys to push around.

Each area of the shop has experts on hand to give advice, there are TV screens sunk into the walls showing ads to entice consumers to buy certain products, and a whole new concept has been introduced, 'sensory shopping'.

A kettle that appears to boil and gives off a scent of tea, an oinking giant Percy Pig (who's just turned 27 by the way) and at the touch of a button you hear a chicken clucking as you choose different coloured loose eggs from a straw filled container.

The fruit and veg is set out like a market
The fruit and veg is set out like a market

M&S admit they've struggled in the past to remain relevant, with many shoppers only going there to buy a meal for a special occasion.

As well as the redesigned store, it's also hoped promotions like Little Shop will encourage children to want to go shopping with their parents.

Miniature versions of classic foods are available to collect with swop events taking place in the shop's cafe for youngsters to try and get the full range.

Any leftover collectables will be recycled and made into new equipment for schools.

Floristry has been expanded in the redesigned Food Hall
Floristry has been expanded in the redesigned Food Hall

Food boss Mr Machin has been very closely involved in the makeover project and spent much of the past week at Hempstead Valley ahead of the store opening.

The former Howard School, Rainham pupil started his professional career working in Sainsbury's at the same shopping centre as a teenager.

Since then he's gone on to work at a senior level at Tesco and Asda and also spent 10 years in Australia before returning to the UK in 2017.

He'll be hoping the idea to transform his local store won't just go down well with the family, but families across Medway and beyond.

Wines, beers and spirits at the M&S Food Hall
Wines, beers and spirits at the M&S Food Hall

The M&S Food Hall will open until 10pm Monday to Saturday.

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