17 September, 2013. British retailer Marks & Spencer (M&S) has announced plans to step up import of Kenyan produce for sale in its stores, pointing to brighter prospects for thousands of farmers and entrepreneurs who supply goods to the UK chain.
The London-based department store bought Kenyan goods such as cut flowers, vegetables, tea and coffee worth Sh13.8 billion (£100million) last year, accounting for 10 per cent of trade between Kenya and the UK.
“The reason we have such a big business in Kenya is because of the great quality of products we get from here. We always want the best.” said Robert Swannell , chairman of M&S, in an interview with the Business Daily in Nairobi last week.
The UK is Kenya’s second-largest export market after Uganda; and consumes about 20 per cent of the country’s black tea, making it a key trade ally.
M&S is strengthening its Kenyan supply chain to drive growth of its food business, which makes up more than half or 54 per cent of its total revenue.
“Our business in Kenya has gone up 15 per cent in the last two to three years and it will continue to grow.”
Mr Swannell made a four-day visit to Kenya from Thursday last week to meet key suppliers, stakeholders and tour farms and factories where the company buys its goods.
Kenya is ranked the fourth-largest sourcing location for Marks & Spencer food division, which sells more than 100 different products containing items from Kenya.
M&S’s key suppliers in Kenya include Finlays and Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) factories such as Iri-iani, Makamboki, Gacharage and Kenyanani from which it buys tea.
The multinational chain of stores also buys its coffee from Dormans and Gikanda Coffee Growers Association’s Gikanda Coffee.
“All our tea and coffee is Fairtrade – underlining our uncompromising sourcing standards.”
It procures fresh flowers and vegetables, mostly green beans from the Naivasha-based VegPro Group.
M&S has 766 outlets in the UK and 420 international stores in more than 50 territories in Europe, Middle East, Asia and North Africa where it has stores in Egypt, Morocco and Libya.
The visit by M&S top executives to bolter trade relations becomes the third investment charm offensive by British investors in the past two weeks. Clarks, a British shoe maker and retailer on September 2 opened its first footwear store at Nakumatt Thika Road Mall.
A day later, British car manufacturer Land Rover unveiled the All-New Range Rover in Nairobi, the latest fourth generation model of the brand that targets the high-end market.
“These are all iconic British brands. We want to double trade between Kenya and the UK to £2 billion by the year 2016,” said British High Commissioner to Kenya Christian Turner.
By DAVID HERBLING