Customer Behaviour

Booming avocado sales and rising demand for vegetarian food helped sandwich chain Pret A Manger deliver tasty double-digit growth in sales last year.

The chain, which is owned by private equity group Bridgepoint, said avocado was its fastest-growing ingredient, with customers eating 5m in 2015. Its best-selling item was a vegetarian Beets, Squash & Feta SuperBowl, selling 17,000 a week and outperforming both chicken and salmon options.

Overall sales were up 13.9 per cent to £676.2m, while earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation rose 14.5 per cent to £84.3m in the 52 weeks to December 31 2015. Like-for-like sales rose 7.5 per cent year-on-year.

“Last year thousands of customers told us they were trying to eat less meat, said Clive Schlee, Pret A Manger’s chief executive.

“This year we have challenged ourselves to increase our vegetarian options in all shops, as well as opening a veggie-only pop-up shop to learn more from our customers,” he said.

“People are becoming more aware about the health and environmental aspects around vegetarianism. We’ve always thought that if vegetarian food was more attractive and more available, more people would eat it.

“We’re not getting rid of our meat options, we’re simply saying, here’s an alternative.”

While the introduction of the new national living wage has seen scores of companies cut employee benefits — with Caffè Nero staff losing their free lunch, for example — Mr Schlee said no such cuts would be made at Pret.

“I’m very conscious about how hard our staff work — how cheerful they are and how motivated they are when buttering the bread — all that is very important and you simply can’t afford to alienate your staff. Under no circumstances will we risk that — we haven’t cut any of our bonuses.”

Pret opened 23 new shops in the UK last year and Mr Schlee denied that the sandwich chain was close to saturation.

“It’s easy to assume we’re everywhere due to our presence in London, but in actual fact we have about half as many shops as the big coffee shops and pizza chains,” he said. “We’re now building outside of London and focusing on university towns, such as Exeter Nottingham, Durham, Manchester and Birmingham.”

International sales were strong too, with like-for-like sales in the US, Pret’s fastest-growing market, up 13.8 per cent on the back of “innovation in salads and breakfast items”.

Last year, Pret began serving dinners with wine, jazz and “really posh olives” at one of its central London branches. Mr Schlee said that despite the popularity of the scheme, the company had concluded “that Pret works best when it sticks to its current format of service”.

He said he would continue to test the format in a handful of other stores that which will serve alcohol, but stressed that alcohol was not viewed as a major part of the business.

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