Director of Food Development & QA, Pret A Manger
Pret a Manger is an international sandwich chain based in the UK. Founded in 1983, Pret currently has over 500 shops in nine countries. 5 shops are Veggie Prets with exclusively vegetarian and vegan foods. The first Veggie Pret was a converted traditional Pret, but the subsequent Veggie Prets have been new shops in trendy areas, with completely different marketing: updated logo, more green branding, and an exclusive menu.
Pret A Manger Discusses Veggie Pret Concepts
Q: Why did Pret choose to add plant-based entrées to your menu?
Rosie: We saw that it was a trend moving forward, lots of people were embracing a flexitarian diet. Our customers were telling us regularly that they wanted to see plant-based items on the menu.
Back in 2015, our CEO tweeted about vegetarian foods at Pret, asking for customer feedback (read more about what happened here). Basically, he said, “we hear you, how would you like us to do it?” We gave our customers the options of opening new stores, dedicating a fridge in each location, or launching more items within the existing range, and we got an overwhelming response. We decided in the UK to do Veggie Pret, the completely vegetarian concept. Globally, we did all three: we added ranges in other UK shops, in Hong Kong we added an entire vegetarian fridge section, and in the US we grew our ranges.
Q: Do you have plans to offer more plant-based entrées in the future?
Rosie: We already have quite a few plant-based products. Our best-selling soup is a vegan soup. We want to keep interesting vegetarian and vegan items that are also highly nutritious, and make sure that the customer feels satisfied after eating, like they got enough protein. We just launched in May a vegan item, a falafel wrap, that is performing well. We work with a manufacturer for our falafel, it’s made custom with green chickpeas and fresh herbs.
Q: What new plant-based products would you like to see manufacturers develop?
Rosie: The biggest categories where we would like to see more vegan is on the breakfast side, like eggs, maybe a vegan scramble liquid egg. As a company, we are defining a strategy for vegan foods. If you look across our ranges, some of our bestselling products contain eggs, so we would love to play around with some vegan eggs in the kitchen.
Another item we would like to look at is other yogurt alternatives, we have a great dairy-free coconut yogurt, but we’ve struggled to find high-quality, creamy non-dairy yogurt that can replace greek yogurt with a similar texture.
Q: What are the benefits from a business perspective of offering plant-based dishes?
Rosie: As a global brand, we’ve seen great benefits from it. Having so many great plant-based items has helped us lead the conversation in the UK, which is our biggest market. Our US customers are constantly asking about Veggie Pret, vegetarian and vegan customers ask about it all the time. Our customers appreciate the efforts we’ve put into it.
Q: Did you see an overall % sales increase once plant-based products were carried?
Rosie: The biggest benefit is when we open Veggie Prets in new markets in trendy neighborhoods. One of our most popular menu items in the US is vegan. When we converted a shop to a Veggie Pret, it did very well at first but then settled down after a bit. The biggest benefit is definitely opening new Veggie Prets in fashionable neighborhoods.
Q: Are more flexitarians or plant-based eaters now coming into your restaurants?
Rosie: It’s flexitarians, I believe, or people who have adopted lifestyle changes. Here in the US when we extended our range, it was often people who were doing Meatless Monday.
You need to understand your customer and the reasoning behind their decision. Transparency and information is a growing trend. We clearly label items as vegetarian and vegan. It’s important to have balanced menus for everyone. I think offering plant-based foods gets new customers. Customers come in and get more choices, more options.
Q: Is there anything different you have to do logistically with plant-based foods, different storage, staff training, etc?
Rosie: Sure, there were things we had to learn and train our staff how to do, like marinating tofu carefully. We use a lot more fresh produce, so we have to make sure shops keep an eye on the quality of fresh ingredients. One great thing about being vegetarian and vegan is how colorful the food can be, so we maximize color and make sure our product packaging highlights that.