Pret eyes delivery, tech

Pret a Manger is trialling new delivery models and making more and more use of technology, group director of food Caroline Cromar revealed at this year’s lunch! show in London.

In an interview with CGA Peach’s Peter Martin, Cromar said Pret was pushing to stay ahead of the curve in the wake of disruption from street food operators and delivery intermediaries. It is now working on delivery trials of its own with Deliveroo and Uber Eats, and Cromar said the delivery trend, much further advanced in the US, was taking hold in the UK market. New mobile brands are challenging Pret in the lunchtime sector too, she added. “The landscape is definitely changing—it’s not our traditional rivals like Marks & Spencer but street food and disruptive delivery.”

Cromar discussed the success of Pret’s trial of a vegetarian-only store in Soho, which has now become a permanent site—and it will be followed soon by a second, probably in the City. The venture has shown Pret the importance of vegetarian and vegan food to consumers, and the side-issue of healthier eating. “We’re definitely seeing that people want to eat healthier food… but those products only work if they taste great as well.” She said of the vegetarian shop trial: “It was a risk… but I’d say it would have been a risk if we hadn’t done it.”

Cromar highlighted other important trends for Pret, including the popularity of hot food and coffee—now worth about 16% and 20% respectively of total sales—and its increasing use of technology, including plans for a new app that will launch in the US then the UK. She said the take-up of contactless payment—which now accounts for around two thirds of transactions—had changed the way Pret customers interact with staff. “The experience at the till is different now… there’s been a noticeable shift in the dialogue that people want.”

Pret is now up to 430 stores worldwide, and Cromar said sales in the UK had remained strong, despite the turbulence following the Brexit vote. “Post-Brexit we’ve been faring even better—we were anticipating the opposite but we’ve had strong growth across the market and the dayparts.” One of those most interesting dayparts has been evenings, where Pret has trialled a new offer at four stores. “It’s been a journey for us… I wouldn’t say we’ve got evenings completely where we want them, but we’ll take elements [of what Pret has learned] elsewhere,” Cromar said.