There is inflation and then there is Pret a Manger inflation. Between August 2020 – which was about five months into the covid pandemic – and today, the Bank of England says inflation has risen by around 20%. Over the same period, the most popular sandwich at Pret (to get the nomenclature correct, its pole & line caught tuna mayo & cucumber baguette) has gone up by 42%. It now costs £4.25. Or at least it does if you buy it from a shop in a London high street. At a London railway station it will set you back £4.99. If you eat it in the shop in the former case, it’s £5.10. If you ‘dine in’ (as Pret slightly pompously has it) while waiting for your train, it’s exactly six quid, the higher prices at transport hubs being due to higher “operational costs”. That price hike could be worse, though; their egg and mayonnaise sarnie has gone up 72%.
The pandemic was a kind of double-edged sword for the likes of Pret. As a takeaway food outlet it could remain open for business. On the other hand, the huge increase in the number of people working from home hit its businesses in central urban areas, causing the company to adjust its business model. It chiefly attributes the recent steep price increases to a huge rise in energy costs, at 300% it says, as well as increases in wages and raw materials (i.e. the food). Nevertheless, gross profits in the company accounts published in July saw them up by 83% at £279 million.
Literally a little lower down the food chain, a croissant at Pret during the pandemic cost £1.70. (This for a takeaway.) It was £1.99 by last autumn, £2.10 early into this year and it’s now £2.30; £2.60 at a railway station. But Pret has long been aware of the need to enable its customers to keep costs under control, which is why in September 2020 it launched its subscription scheme. The Club Pret strategy allows members to have as many as five coffees a day for £30 a month. A bit like WH Smith giving away free chocolate with magazine purchases, I’m not sure anyone should be encouraged to drink that much coffee, but there you go…well, you certainly would go with that much caffeine inside you.
It’s not just the coffee. Club Pret members get the aforementioned tuna/mayo/cucumber comestible for £3.40 rather than £4.25 (or £3.99 versus £4.99 at a station). And soon this will not only be in the UK. Pret has done a deal with a US franchise company that will operate 50 stores in the American northeast. Somewhat inappropriately the company is called Dallas, but there will be none in Texas. Ingredients will be altered to make the products better fitted to the local market. For example, the cheese will be burrata rather than mozzarella. That doesn’t sound like much of a big deal but I’m also guessing the same will go for the chocolate they will use to make their brownies…which would make the US version pretty unpalatable to British tastes. And vice versa, of course.