Why Pret Manger Is Successful in Fast Casual Dining

Pret A Manger sandwich shop on Broadway in Manhattan
Pret A Manger

"When you hear "sandwich shop," what comes to mind? Probably Quiznos, Subway, Schlotzky's and the plethora of "burgers and" concepts flourishing recently. Sandwich shops are more like fast food establishments or the industry term Quick Service Restaurants (QSR). In the U.S., the food service industry is divided into fast food, fast-casual, casual dining, and fine dining.

Pret A Manger Is an Anomaly That Works

Pret A Manger is a concept based in the United Kingdom that is technically a sandwich shop but feels more like a fast-casual concept such as Panera Bread. Pret (for short) is a restaurant that sells sandwiches, salads, soups, and baked goods. They pride themselves on building a kitchen in every shop. Fresh is the word that comes to mind.

According to their website, "you won't find 'sell by' dates on our fresh sandwiches and salads." They are more of a to-go restaurant than a sandwich shop. Pret's concept is to appeal to the time-crunched, healthy, value-driven urban customer with a range of products in the $3.89 to $6.99 price range.

Fast Food or Fast Casual?

If you're wondering if Pret's brand positioning is Upscale Fast Food or "Faster" Fast Casual it's likely "Faster" because they pride themselves in getting a customer out the door in 60 seconds once the customer makes their selection.

"We didn't set out to try and fit into any niche. Hopefully, our customers (adults and kids alike) view us as making accessible, delicious and affordable food that is quick and easy to grab-and-go while only using ingredients free of odd preservatives." (Martin Bates, President, Pret A Manager U.S.)

Bates' philosophy appears to be working because while Pret faces stiff competition in restaurant-dense markets like New York City, the brand has carved out a unique segment of upscale, healthier, portable food customers that want speed. This means that competitors like Panera Bread in New York City are not direct competitors.

Pret's own research confirms this. The average Pret customer comes in 3 times a week. However, Pret is keeping an eye on Panera Bread because they're continuing to expand in the Manhattan market.

Pret's Passion Facts are Subtle Value Messages 

Like Whole Foods, Pret has core values of freshness, simple ingredients, and better-for-you products. To reinforce these marketing messages, they have their Passion Facts peppered throughout the store.

Passion Facts consists of informative and visually appealing photography accompanied by short messages about the food and the care each meal gets from Pret chefs. For example, many restaurants say they use grilled chicken but in reality, it is chicken scored with artificial grill marks. So, one Passion Fact is that all their grilled chicken is actually grilled and comes from a company called Murray's Chicken.

Another Passion Fact is that they have an on-site kitchen versus most establishments whose sandwiches, soups, and salads are created in a central commissary. This gives Pret the ability to say "Here Today… gone today".

No Supersized Meals at Pret

If you visit the Pret A Manger shop on Broadway in Manhattan, you'll notice that the sandwiches are generally smaller than the "supersized" fast food sandwiches at many other restaurants. There is also a good balance of protein, bread, and flavors. This is an excellent product positioning point given the alarming rate of obesity and consumer desire for healthy food. Still, despite the craze, it is not easy selling healthy.

Pret's viewpoint is that the other fast food and fast casual brands consider value as delivering meals that are "more than you can eat." Conversely, Pret customers believe that Pret's portion sizes are correct. "Correct Sizing means Pret makes the decision for the customer versus the high degree of flexibility in menu selection at other chains" according to the chain. This does not work in most fast food and fast casual concepts. It comes down to trust and Pret's customers have a high degree of trust in the selection the brand is making for them every day.

A Focus on Local Tastes and Personalization

The chain has local food teams that develop food in both the U.S. and the U.K. because these two markets are quite different and for Pret A Manger it goes beyond the size of the portions. Some popular tastes in Pret's home base of the UK just don't translate well in the U.S. According to Pret A Manger, 

"Our American customers, for example, are more wary of mayonnaise than are their British counterparts. We offer quality ingredients over the quantities offered at some other large restaurant chains."

Affordability, Better-for-You, and Personalization are significant food & beverage trends and the evidence that Pret is listening to their customers is evidenced by their Slim Range line of sandwiches.

Slim Range products are half sandwiches that allow a customer to mix and match, either with another half sandwich flavor or a salad or even dessert. This personalization means that even though a customer has their sandwich in a box selection pre-determined for them, the customer still has the option to "customize" their meal, do it in an affordable way, and it can be the right size portion.

Pret A Manger: Urban Upscale Trend Goes Suburban

Urban areas are classic Pret territory with many typical customers coming from downtown office towers and businesses. These are time-stretched customers that demand high-quality, interesting food options. There are plenty of opportunities in urban markets for Pret, but in time they see their urban food concept translating easily into suburban markets.

Chicago's CityTarget hosts a Pret A Manger, begging the question, "is there is a particular synergy with Target?"

According to Pret A Mager, 

"Target and Pret have a lot of synergies, particularly through giving back to the communities that we serve. At the end of the day, all leftover Pret food is donated to local charities, such as The Greater Chicago Food Depository in Chicago. On average, Pret donates about 150 to 250 meals per day through its partnership with The Greater Chicago Food Depository, and more than 1.7 million products to charities each year in the United Kingdom. We like the fact that Target also commits similar support to the communities in which they work." 

This ties in quite well with the growing trend in Cause-Related Marketing and Business Social Responsibility.

The CityTarget urban customer is also exactly the desired Pret A Manger customer. They are a time-starved, healthy, value-driven urban customer. Therefore, opening a high-profile street-level storefront in one of their growing markets makes sense.

Fast Food or Fast Casual?

It doesn't matter. These are insider industry terms to segment foodservice concepts. Steve Johnson, the Grocerant Guru agrees:

"When you are thinking of where to go out to eat, do you say 'let's go fast casual' or 'QSR'? No. You say, 'let's go to Applebees or Panera or Pre A Manger.'"