Original Blog Post: 15th June 2016
Pret opened its Little Veggie Pop Up shop on Broadwick Street, Soho on 1st June. It has been almost a year in the making. We had two objectives: 1) Give our chefs a turbo-challenge to come up with delicious new veggie and vegan options and 2) Ask our customers what they would like to see end up on Pret’s shelves permanently. We predicted our Veggie Pret shop would see sales drop by up to 30% and the project was expected to be an investment (i.e. a loss maker). Our teams put an enormous amount of work into designing and fine tuning the recipes, bringing in small suppliers new to Pret, dressing up the store and training the staff.
Two weeks on, I can share five early impressions from the Pret team on what we’ve seen so far:
1. The Warmth of the Public Response
This has taken us completely by surprise. Sales at Broadwick St, far from falling, are up over 70% on last year. The shop is packed and this is the first time I have seen customers in London sitting on the floor to eat their lunch. The energy of the shop is also quite remarkable, in fact a friend of mine likened it to a Beyoncé concert (I’ve never been to one myself)! A number of visitors to London have come to Soho specifically to see the shop. Customers are taking photos of the food, writing down the ingredients, and giving us messages of overwhelming support on the Hit the Spot/Lost the Plot notice board. A meat free environment seems to generate an infectious positive energy.
2. This is Natural
Like all good ideas, Pret’s exclusively veggie shop seemed radical when we first thought of it, but has come to feel very natural. Vegetarianism is becoming much more mainstream and of course the more vegetarian food is available and the more attractive the textures and flavours, the less of a sacrifice you have to make. I had a vegetarian housemate in my third year at university. In an unspoken way we all slightly resented the fact that whoever was cooking had to organise two meals. There would be no question of that now. Social media is playing a role in showing people that vegetarianism is much better for the planet, and I suspect that my housemates would be cooking one vegetarian meal if we lived together in 2016.
3. Vegetarians enjoy the sweet things in life
I don’t know if this should be a surprise, but the top two selling products at Veggie Pret are the Dairy-free Chocolatey Coconut Bite (a vegan bar) and the Cacao & Orange Pot (a vegan dessert). The rate of pudding/chocolate take up in our Veggie shop is more than five times a normal Pret!
4. Vegan dishes are the big sellers
The top selling eight new products at Veggie Pret are all vegan, which either shows that vegan dishes can be just as delicious as veggie dishes, or we have underestimated how strong the vegan movement is. One customer commented that “I don’t eat vegan. I am vegan.” The star ingredient so far is a Pret favourite – the avocado. It seems avocado plays an important role in providing texture, the right kind of fat and colour. This plays to Pret’s strengths because, unlike most of our competitors, we can cut them up in the kitchens at the back of our shops.
5. What should Pret do next?
It’s early days, and we are having a big internal debate about this. The original idea was to close the shop after four weeks, but we are now inclined to keep it open slightly longer to see whether demand is still as strong once the initial hype dies down. There are some who would like to convert every fourth Pret into a Veggie Pret, and to explore its success in other markets too. There is no need to rush this decision – we will be learning more every week. If anyone has any views, please do get in touch!