Target’s Marks & Spencer Collaboration Brings British Christmas to America

Target, the big box retailer, is selling a 15-item collection of Christmas food novelties from Marks & Spencer, my favorite (u) British grocer. The lineup, available in stores and online, is heavy on collector’s tins, including a music box and one shaped like a double-decker bus. If you are, for some reason, sick of your Christmas biscuit tins not doubling as bright home decorations, just relax – prayers are answered. For anyone wondering why Target imports holiday collections from UK grocers, let me explain.

Here’s what you need to know about UK supermarket chains: Unlike in the US, where beloved regional stores are largely consolidated into a handful of monopolies that retain local branding, resulting in mediocre cross-country uniformity, that’s huge here. mostly independent and individualized in their corporate identity. Yet England is small enough that it is, effectively, one region, wholesale. All famous chains are national concerns.

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Tesco is where you get a Cornetto at 9:50pm on a Sunday night when you’re a little tipsy after sitting in the park all day. Asda is a big, less grimy Tesco. Sainsbury’s blaringly orange monolith represents the baseline of middling England. Co-op has a bit of an everyman charm, and they also do funerals? Waitrose sits at the top of the pile, the poshest of the bunch, its branding is as green as the lawn of Buck House, where the king of raspberries it sells lives.

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M&S sits astride this bit. It spun out of its origins as the food hall of an Oxford Street department store, so the convenience food stores and grocery stores, the latter still labeled “foodhalls,” retain a close-knit lifestyle. In the UK, M&S has a reputation for high quality but expensive. (More in the lingerie department, it is historically known for selling really good underwear.)

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Announcing the partnership, Food & Wine compared M & S to its new partner, but I found it more Trader Joe’s than Target. Like Trader Joe’s, M & S mainly sells its own brand of everything; seasonal rotation and one-off novelty products is robust; it treads boorishly on alluring global foodways and lurid little rip-offs; and there’s a unique internal narrative scattered throughout the shop, if you know how to find it. For example, this year M&S celebrated the 30th birthday of its mascot, Percy Pig, with a range of wacky-themed products and a pink historical plaque acknowledging him at Paddington station.

The music box resembles a gingerbread house and some gingerbread men

One of the Marks & Spencer collector’s tins on offer.
Marks & Spencer

So, what’s the value of bringing M&S products to Target for the holidays? RetailWire has speculated that Target is trying to reproduce the synergy of fashion brand collaboration in its grocery department. M&S could be a good candidate as their products are not available in the US, giving them a rare appearance of a Target designer collaboration. For the grocery chain has a very strong – and especially British – brand identity. One of the ways that comes through is how incongruously extra Christmas bonanzas tend to be. Since I don’t celebrate Christmas, US Happy Holidays culture has always felt a bit performative. In England, though, they don’t pretend there’s anything else to celebrate. And since many modern Christmas traditions are Victorian – as in, like, popularized by Queen Victoria – M&S products bring a little bit of British Christmas spirit to Target.

More powerfully, the grocery arm of M&S captures the fine British construction that has made it its greatest export culture. The aisles are filled with products such as West Country Luxury Yogurt in flavors such as strawberries and cream that evoke Arcadian Albion with neon green lawns and soft fruit bounty “Goblin Market”, and others such as the Indian Starter Selection Side Dish, which speaks of our country . post-Blairite and postcolonial reforms (sort of) into modern global capital. Other British grocery chains also sell international products, but M&S’s framing makes its Britishness pointed and harsh.

Maybe you’ve read all of this and thought, isn’t all of England effectively ruined? Why didn’t they fire three leaders in four months? (Five if you count the monarchs, I think.) Is their economy not destroyed? Are they not completely and utterly screwed themselves? Do we want any souvenirs?

That’s all true, and if it’s okay to do some conspiratorial speculation in the name of journalism: If I’m a company with a rather international brand identity that has produced a large Christmas inventory, but I’m worried that I won’t be able to sell it to really bad customers who The currency has completely plummeted, maybe I’ll try to offload it anyway, it might have some cachet. Just a theory for funsies – I have no hard rock proof of this. What I have is a pair of M&S Outstanding Value underwear that I bought in 2006, and they show no signs of slowing down. So if you’re going to spend your money on something you don’t need, it’s pretty good, this M&S stuff.

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