While other high-street outlets struggle, the ubiquitous British chain is doing so well that business is booming even in the spiritual home of the deli
Just after 8am, in the bowels of Manhattans concrete rabbit warren Penn Station, there are a lot of queues. Long lines of travellers wait for the Long Island Rail Road and Amtrak trains; for the bathrooms where dozens of homeless people spend the night; and for food and drinks outside Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks and Pret a Manger.
The line for the French-sounding-but-British-owned Pret is longer than that for any of the other food chains. Thats no surprise as the outlet, above platforms 20 and 21 on the LIRR, is the busiest for its size of all the 400 or so Prets worldwide.
The chain founded with one outlet in Londons Victoria by serial food entrepreneur Julian Metcalfe and his friend Sinclair Beecham 30 years ago now operates around the world including China and France. And it is growing fast: last week Pret revealed sales climbed nearly 14% last year, to 676m. The improvement is not just the result of opening more outlets: takings at branches open more than a year were up 7.5%. Profits rose 14.5% to more than 84m.
Prets customers are trendy, health-conscious types. The company says sales of vegetarian options are up in double digits and it is trialling a veggie-only pop-up shop in the summer. Takings from lines containing avocado were up 26% last year: Prets outlets got through 5 million avocados in 12 months.
The first steps into the US back in 2001, with a store on New Yorks Broad Street were faltering. Americans thought the sandwiches had too much mayonnaise and they took time to be convinced that food sold in packages, rather than made to order in a deli, could be truly fresh.
But the US is now Prets most significant market outside the UK with 65 stores and 10 more planned this year. One of those will be a second outlet in busy Penn Station.
Clive Schlee, chief executive, says: We have become a bit of a beacon there. He says Prets strategy in the US has been the same as in the UK: constant, steady innovation to get the mix right before expansion. It took five years of tinkering in the UK before Pret opened its second store.