29th July 2015
I regularly look at Pret's sales mix to see which food categories are growing and which are shrinking. Recently, there has been a distinct shift towards vegetarian. The top selling SuperBowl in our latest salad launch was Beets, Squash & Feta, beating chicken, salmon and crayfish alternatives. This would have been unheard of five years ago.
Of course there are good reasons to eat less meat (I'm trying!). Aside from the animal welfare arguments, the UN says that the single most important step an individual can take to reduce global warming is to adopt a meat and dairy-free diet. Michael Pollan won the argument for me when he published his book Food Rules: "Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly Plants." Vegetables are also taking a starring role in a number of excellent restaurants. You have to book months in advance to get into places like ABC Kitchen in New York where the colours, ingredients and tastes of the predominantly vegetarian menu are incredible. Grain Store in London’s King's Cross is also excellent.
How can Pret help people to enjoy more vegetarian food without being preachy, or worse still, alienating our customers? After all, our best-selling sandwich at the moment is the Chicken Caesar & Bacon baguette and some of the fastest growing chains in the world like Five Guys and Chipotle are distinctly animal protein-oriented.
One idea is to open a vegetarian Pret A Manger shop. It would offer the usual Pret menu but replace sandwiches and salads containing meat and fish with a delicious range of vegetarian items. These dishes would have to be good because in the food business, it is always taste that wins the day. Put simply, vegetarian food has to be delicious if it is to gain more traction.
The danger of doing this is that we take choice away and upset loyal customers and, of course, we love our current range. The reason to do it is to act as a beacon for more innovation at Pret for the future, which offers greater choice. It would encourage Pret to create tastier vegetarian food and tempt customers who are inclined to try new alternatives.
This idea is still in its infancy. There are some within Pret who believe we should be more cautious and simply put in a dedicated fridge full of vegetarian food. Other colleagues are excited by the symbol and the challenge.
Blog update, 10th August: We held a vote to find out what our customers thought of the idea of opening a vegetarian Pret. Nearly ten thousand people voted and the results are below. Thank you for taking part in the poll and check back again soon for an update on what we’ll do next.