Pret a Manger

UK: Pret’s success defies recession

Pret a Manger, the UK sandwich chain that transformed the British lunch, says it will create 550 new jobs as it steps up expansion plans after year of record sales and store openings.

The chain, which opened in London in 1986 and has 286 shops mainly in the UK, said sales rose 15% to £377.3m in the year to 29 December while underlying profits were up 14% to £52.4m, boosted by the opening of new 24 stores. As the economy continues to founder, such expansion is impressive.

The firm, which employs nearly 5,000 people in the UK and gives its leftover food to the homeless, has pledged to open 24 more sites in the UK in 2012 and 20 overseas, including its first in Boston in the US.

It is planning a drive to attract more school leavers and said it will also expand its apprenticeship scheme for the homeless.

The company’s chief executive, Clive Schlee, said: “2011 was a year of strong revenue and profit growth during which we built a record number of new stores in the UK and internationally.

“Pret plans to expand the Pret apprenticeship scheme for the homeless and increase the number of apprentices to 70 this year.

“The scheme offers an opportunity to break the cycle of homelessness by providing the most valuable gift of all – a paid job in a lively social environment.”

Pret said it gave away 2.4m sandwiches and salads in 2011.

The group, which is mainly owned by private equity firm Bridgepoint, opened two stores in Paris this year.

Comment from The Guardian on Pret’s success:

They’re not a perfect company, but Pret’s success is worth celebrating.

The rise of Pret typifies the improvements in British eating over the last generation.

The company was founded by college friends Julian Metcalfe and Sinclair Beecham in 1986, with a shop in Westminster. At the time, Metcalfe says: “Eating in London was very grim. There were lots of Italian sandwich bars. Italian food is amazing, but it was like the worst Italian chefs came here.” Towers of pre-buttered bread, greasy counters and tubs of slop were dispiritingly common: Pret was clean, sleek and sensibly designed.

The product it served was, and remains, better than the standard offering of the British high street. Compare its sandwiches with those of Boots: Pret’s are of course more expensive – around £3 apiece instead of £2 – but often taste more than 50% better. The avocado salad wrap is lovely, but they do continue to produce monstrosities – the “famous all-day breakfast sandwich”, the various tepid, salty wraps, the chewy bits of bacon. And they have a strange addiction to mayonnaise.

Still, Pret sandwiches have no sell-by date: 95% of stores give their leftovers to homeless charities. (The company also runs a training scheme for homeless people and ex-offenders, and claims more than 70 people have been “taken off the streets” as a result.)

Pret has introduced the public to potentially unfamiliar dishes such as miso soup. Its porridge is lovely on a hoary winter commute. If the nation’s sandwich shops have improved since the 1980s, it is in part a reaction to the higher standards of Pret.

What else to account for this success?….

The Guardian: Read the full article