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Pret A Manger

The sandwich shop chain has gone from losing £80,000 in its first year in the 80s to become a £350m business.

The humble sandwich, a British lunchtime staple, has helped launch an empire in the form of Pret A Manger.

Julian Metcalfe and Sinclair Beecham started a delicatessen after finding that there was a lack of quality lunchtime food on offer in 80s London. The venture lost £80,000 in its first year and reportedly pushed them close to bankruptcy.

With a bank loan, the duo quit their jobs to try again, with a shop beside Victoria railway station. This time, they were serving more than 7000 customers a week within the first year, and Metcalfe and Beecham slowly built the fast sandwich idea into a business worth £350m.

It provided three main selling points; the food was fresh, tasty and fast. British office workers were introduced to the delights of Thai avocado and spinach sandwiches and Moroccan falafel and hummus.

Developing the range to include fare such as sushi, soups and porridge, Pret was creating, as much as reacting to, changing tastes.

Its porridge recipe took three years to perfect, such was the chain's desire for quality. The commitment to fresh, sustainable food, free of additives, began before these qualities became buzzwords.

The sandwiches are made fresh every day in Pret's own kitchens, using ingredients from numerous carefully chosen suppliers. Leftovers are given to the homeless at the end of the day.

Pret also echoes this natural approach elsewhere, with 90% recyclable packaging that makes the food the focus, with simple names and colour schemes that don't obscure the produce.

Staff adhere to strict guidelines, which even include making sure fillings go right up to the edge of the bread. If a sandwich doesn't meet these standards, it won't make it to the shop floor.

Pret sells 30m sandwiches and baguettes a year, and it's hard to imagine what much of Britain would be eating every lunchtime without it. Expansion to other countries has been tentative, although it was heralded as 'the best British invasion since The Beatles' in one review when it launched in the US.


BRAND LESSON

Andy Knowles, chairman, JKR

Andy Knowles, chairman, JKR

In terms of its performance as a design-driven enterprise, Pret A Manger can proudly award itself one of those solid-silver Tiffany stars it hands out to its most lauded staff.

Even if the posh-sounding foreign name, art deco font and burgundy star are a cliche, they succeed in telling a simple story - that this is a fresh alternative to shabbier sandwich shops, with a bit more class.

So we should be grateful for the impact Pret has made on British high streets, raising the bar for established operators and attracting a fresh breed of quality rivals, such as Eat.

It's been only about 25 years since the coffee and sandwich shop revolution began, but we British can buy espresso coffee and interesting sandwiches almost anywhere these days.

Fair play to Pret for using design to face up to younger competition. Brick and wood have helped the stores evolve beyond their original cold chrome interior and encourage diners to stay awhile as the arrival of chatty packaging and witty graphics gently move the brand toward a more foody sentiment, without being elitist. Maintaining popular appeal is one of Pret's enduring strengths, and a prime factor in keeping the stores buzzing with activity.

Although the business lost its way after a too-rapid expansion to the US, it has recently found its second wind. Goodness, it's even opening stores in France; how ironic is that?


TIMELINE

1992: Pret A Manger expanded with the addition of two shops in London.

1990s: The chain became the first retailer to move from plastic to cardboard packaging.

2000: Co-founder Sinclair Beecham was awarded an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List for services to the catering industry.

2001: McDonald's bought a stake in the business for £50m. Metcalfe focused on the sushi chain Itsu, which he co-founded in 1997.

2003: Metcalfe and Beecham returned to day-to-day running of the chain due to fears over the pace of expansion. The international arm of the business operated at a loss.

2008: The pair sold the business, handing over management to a private equity firm and Goldman Sachs in a deal worth £350m.

2009: Tuna was banned from Pret's menu because of concern over the unsustainable fishing practices used to catch it. Only poleand line-caught tuna now sit on Pret's shelves.

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