How Pret A Manger Succeeds as an Upscale Sandwich Chain

A sandwich shop carving out the upscale fast food segment for themselves

Pret A Manger sandwich shop on Broadway in Manhattan
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 or the industry term Quick Service Restaurants (QSR). In the US, the food service industry segments into fast food, fast casual, casual dining and fine dining.

About the Pret A Manger Concept

Pret A Manger is a concept based in the UK that is technically a sandwich shop but feels more like a fast casual concept such as Panera Bread.

Pret is a restaurant that sells sandwiches, salads, soups and wonderful baked goodies. They pride themselves on building a kitchen in every shop. Fresh is the word… "you won't find 'sell by' dates on our fresh sandwiches and salads" according to their web site. Think of them as a restaurant to go.

Pret appeals to the time starved, healthy, value driven urban customer with a range of products in the $3.89 to $6.99 price range.

I decided to visit a Pret A Manger in New York City since it is a unique blend of upscale fast food and fast casual I spoke with Sebastian Wright, VP of Food, Pret A Manger US and Martin Bates, President, Pret A Manger US

Fast Food or Fast Casual?

I wondered if Pret's brand positioning was Upscale Fast Food or "Faster" Fast Casual? I say faster since they pride themselves in getting a customer out of the store 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 Manger US

Pret is no stranger to competition since their New York base has customers with a repertoire of different eating establishments. It appears that the brand has carved out a unique segment of upscale, healthier, portable food that is also fast… so Panera Bread is not a direct competitor.


ret's own research affirms this customer delight since the average customer comes in 3 times per week. However they are keeping their eye on Panera Bread… the chain is schedule to open 3 Manhattan stores in the near future.

Upscale Fast Food Trend McDonalds McCafe Leading the Trend

McCafe from McDonalds is positioned as upscale and they have successfully reinvented their brand with McCafe's strong beverage performance fueling phenomenal worldwide sales growth.

McDonalds USA is grabbing more share of stomach with a host of with the successful new product launches. If McCafe is attracting new customers with a new product, will McDonalds be strong future competition since McDonalds surely sees the opportunity to create a line of grab n go McCafe sandwiches. "There was a time when McDonalds actually owned a 1/3 share in the Pret and they divested themselves of ownership in 2005. McDonalds is driven by affordability, price point and a delivery of high calories for less. Our customers come in looking for the right blend of price, convenience and great tasting food." according to Sebastian.

Pret's Passion Facts - Subtle Value Messages Throughout the Store

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 consist of wonderful photography with short messages about the food and the care each meal gets from their chefs. For example many restaurants say they use grilled chicken but in reality it is chicken, not grilled, with artificial grill marks placed on the chicken breast! So one Passion Fact is all of their grilled chicken is the real thing from a company called Murray's Chicken.

Another Passion Fact: Pret has a real kitchen creating foods on premise vs. the sandwiches, soups and salads created in a central commissary and trucked in. This gives them the ability to say "Here Today… gone today".

Why does Pret A Manger stay clear of the American trend in supersized meals?

No Fast Food Supersized Meals Here

On a recent visit to the Pret A Manger on Braodway in Manhattan, I noticed that the sandwiches are smaller than the "supersized" fast food sandwiches at other restaurants. There is a great balance of protein, bread and flavors… they are "right sized". I immediately thought that would be a consideration for product positioning given the alarming rate of obesity as well as the consumer desire for better for you foods… it is not easy selling healthy.

Pret's viewpoint is that the other fast food / fast casual brands consider value as delivering meals that are "more than you can eat". Pret customers seem to agree that Pret's portion sizes are correct and they say their customer is not chasing calorie's per buck. "Correct Sizing means Pret makes the decision for the customer vs. the high degree of flexibility in menu selection at other chains" according to Sebastian. This does not work in most fast food and fast casual concepts however. Pret's customers have a high degree of trust in the selection the brand is making for them every day.

Pret A Manger Focuses on Local Menu Development

They have local food teams developing food in both the US and the UK since the two markets are quite different and for Pret A Manger it goes beyond the size of the portions. Some popular tastes in their home base of the UK just don't translate. Sebastian told me that "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 (customization) are significant food & beverage trends and Pret is listening to their customers very carefully on this with their Slim Range line of sandwiches.

Slim Range products are half sandwiches that allow a customer to mix and match… maybe another ½ sandwich flavor or a salad or even dessert.

While sitting over a Pret meal we noticed one customer with a ½ sandwich, salad and a dessert as well as other slim range examples. So even though they have their sandwich in a box selections pre-determined for you, the customer still has the ability to "customize" their meal, affordably AND it is the right size portion.

Will Pret continue to be urban focused… where there customers are…or will you see a Pret at your nearest suburban shopping center?

Pret A Manger - Urban Upscale Fast Food

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

CityTarget and Pret

Regarding the recent CityTarget announcement to host a Pret A Manger in their recently opened Chicago store I wondered if there is a particular synergy with Target?

According to Sebastian "Target and Pret have a lot of synergies, particularly through giving back to the communities that we service. 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 150-250 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 precisely the Pret A Manger customer… a time starved, healthy, value driven urban customer.

So opening a high profile street-level store front in one of our their growing markets makes complete sense.

Fast Food or Fast Casual?

It does not matter. These are insider industry terms to segment food service concepts. Steve Johnson our Grocerant Guru agrees: " When you are thinking of where to go out to eat, do you say 'lets go fast casual… QSR..'. No! We say let's go to Applebees or Panera or where ever…"

Pret A Manger knows this and are delighting their average customers who visit them over 3x per week. Keep an eye for a Pret a Manger coming to a location near you.