It's the best-known name on the High Street, and its food brand is one of those we trust the most, but its sales are slipping.

Yesterday Marks & Spencer boss Sir Stuart Rose eased pressure on the retailer by announcing a smaller than expected fall in sales.

Sir Stuart, who has faced flak due to recent trading and corporate governance issues, said there were signs of an improved trend in its performance but added he remained cautious about prospects for this year and next.

Like-for-like sales in the UK dropped 1.4% in the 13 weeks to June 27, bettering the previous quarter as well as forecasts in the City. But there was still a 5% decline in food sales.

John Dixon, 41, has been director of food at M&S since July last year, having previously worked in the Paris head office and as executive assistant to Sir Stuart. Mr Dixon oversees the sourcing, distribution and pricing of food to Scotland's 44 stores under the company's Plan A, a five-year £200m eco-plan launched in 2007. The plan is aimed at tackling some of the biggest challenges facing the business, including climate change, waste, sustainability of raw materials, fair trading and health, through its food ranges and clear labelling.

So what would you ask the head of M&S food? We asked key names in the Scottish food industry to contribute a question, to be put forward by Herald food writer Cate Devine: Q: You seem to have reduced the quantity of fresh fish, meat and seasonal vegetables in favour of ready-made dishes. Aren't you discouraging people from cooking?

Martin Wishart, Michelin-starred chef and contributor to The Herald Saturday Magazine.

A: Absolutely not. We recognise that we have a heritage and strength in our ready meals - customers want that convenience - but we've done a lot of good work on fresh produce over the last 12 months. We have re-presented a lot of wet fish and fresh meat ranges. Sixty per cent of all beef and 40% of the lamb we sell in the UK comes from Scotland.

Q: Who is your nearest rival - Waitrose or Lidl?

Cate Devine, The Herald's food writer A: Everybody. We wouldn't single anybody out. I think that irrespective of who you are in the high street, we're all trying to give our customers exactly what they want.

Q: When provenance of food is such an influential factor in consumer's choice in what and where to buy their food, do M&S regret coming up with the marketing of Lochmuir salmon, since Loch Muir doesn't actually exist? In your opinion was it a bad marketing decision or was it a cynical decision to deceive, and do you think it has damaged your customers' trust in M&S as a brand?

Andrew Fairlie, two Michelin-starred chef at his eponymous restaurant at the Gleneagles Hotel.

A: With Lochmuir we've created a specific species of farmed salmon, on a fish farm off the west coast of Scotland. We created the name to convey our unique brand, and to distinguish our variety from others. We did a very similar thing with our Oakham chicken. It's the same concept. Oakham, like Lochmuir, is a differentiated product from the rest of the high street - it's an M&S selected breed, raised using M&S selected feed, and under M&S selected welfare standards.

Q: Your food halls sell lovely food, but they are essentially very large rooms with artificial lighting instead of windows, and heating systems which fight against the cold air from the open-sided fridges every minute of the day. Do you intend to cut it down by closing the fridges, or building stores with windows?

Patrick Harvie MSP, co-convenor/leader of the Scottish Green Party.

A: We're possibly reviewing the way we display our goods and there may be an impact on that. Replacing the most harmful HCFC gases in our stores' refrigeration and air conditioning gases is part of Plan A. From 2010 all new installations will use eco-friendly CO2 systems wherever possible. We are aiming to progressively reduce our total refrigeration greenhouse gas emissions.

Q: When fewer young people are choosing to become farmers because it's simply not profitable for them, how are you going to guarantee future supply of food? Will you make it worthwhile for farmers to produce food for you?

John Scott MSP, farmer and founder of Ayr farmers' market.

A: We recognise that in beef and lamb production in particular, but also dairy production, there are a number of people exiting the industry. This is an important issue for us. We have a number of initiatives on how we're going to tackle it. Our partner payment schemes give a price guarantee to allow people to invest in capital in their systems and to try and attract new people to come in. We're looking at what we can do in our apprenticeship schemes to encourage new people into the industry.

A really good example is what we're doing with our milk pledge, introduced in 2005, where we work with a select pool of dairy farmers. Our milk price is independently audited and we've consistently been at the top of the milk price league. Also, we've been working with Scotbeef for over 40 years. We have numerous examples of really great quality partners/suppliers we've been working with for decades. Because we work closely with them and try to understand their needs as well as our customers' needs, we're very confident we can continue to work in partnership with these growers and farmers to ensure the long-term future.

Q: In the past I've noticed M&S buyers and designers coming in and taking photographs of our shop interior. So I'd like to know: to what extent do independent retailers influence your design and sourcing policy?

Fiona Buchanan, proprietor, Heart Buchanan deli and cafe, Byres Road, Glasgow.

A: Retailing is about a combination of different things. It requires an awareness of what's happening in the marketplace, an awareness of what's happening in food retail around the world. We visit trade shows and exhibitions - so yes, we take a lot of inspiration from other retailers.

Q: M&S were the first to bring sandwiches and ready-made meals to the mass market. Now every other supermarket has caught up, using exotic ingredients and interesting ideas, while M&S has become the John Major of food retailing. In other words, M&S food has become conservative and boring. How do you stay one step ahead of the competition?

Ron Mackenna, The Herald's restaurant critic A: What we've done over the last 12 months is concentrate on giving our customers fantastic value for money. Value is a function of price and quality but also innovation. A major reason customers come to us is that we sell food you can't get elsewhere. For example, our Cook Asian, Grill and Cupcake ranges are treats you can't buy elsewhere.

We've invested significant amounts of profit margin in delivering great value for our customers - for example, our Dine In for Two for £10 offering restaurant-quality food for two people for £10 including wine, has been hugely successful in driving footfall through our stores. This year, once again, we've seen customers vote M&S the best quality food retailer in the UK.

Q: Hasn't your new "wisebuys" range downgraded the M&S brand?

Ian McConnell, business editor, The Herald.

A: No, absolutely not. Wisebuys was not about introducing a new value range of goods. It's about taking 500 of our existing products and sharpening their price. That's what customers said they wanted very, very clearly at a time when other retailers were introducing value products. We've improved our value but what we haven't done, and never will, is lower our quality standards.

Q: Why is your fresh cream always from the West Country - meaning Devon - and not Ayrshire - meaning south-west Scotland? Are you saying it's better than Scottish cream?

Cate Devine A: We've chosen it on customer feedback. West Country cream is recognised in all parts of the UK and we believe we're selling the best cream on the High Street. In terms of Scottish procurement, we're looking at all areas where we can expand our range of Scottish products. In the last 12 months we've built a very good range of Scottish milk and cheeses, and cream will be one of them. We've got a much better representation of Scottish ingredients than we had a few years ago. We now have 2500 Scottish products out of 4500 lines, depending on the time of year.

Remember that grass starts growing in the south-west of England before it starts growing in Scotland. That grazing pattern obviously has an impact on the quality of the cream.

Q: Is cheapest always best? Isn't it depressing always to have to offer what's cheapest?

Cate Devine A: I don't think our customers do only want that. At M&S we don't talk about cheap, we talk about value for money. M&S is testament to the fact that there are millions of customers out there who actually want great quality food and in some cases they are prepared to pay a small premium for food that has a point of difference.

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