Pret A Manger is mooting the idea of opening a shop that only sells vegetarian food.
The popular sandwich chain is grappling with the idea internally, although it faces resistance from some staff who fear it could be a step too far.
No firm decision has been made yet, but CEO Clive Schlee says there is evidence to suggest Pret needs to explore the prospect seriously.
“I regularly look at Pret’s sales mix to see which food categories are growing and which are shrinking. Recently, there has been a distinct shift towards vegetarian. The top-selling SuperBowl in our latest salad launch was Beets, Squash & Feta, beating chicken, salmon and crayfish alternatives. This would have been unheard of five years ago.”
Schlee said that one of the main challenges would be finding a way to help people enjoy more vegetarian food without “being preachy, or worse still, alienating our customers”.
Pret’s best-selling sandwich at the moment is still the chicken caesar and bacon baguette, while it is well aware that some of the fastest growing chains in the world, such as Five Guys and Chipotle, are distinctly animal protein-oriented.
Schlee said that if Pret does open a vegetarian shop it would offer the usual Pret menu but replace sandwiches and salads containing meat and fish with a range of vegetarian items.
“These dishes would have to be good because in the food business, it is always taste that wins the day. Put simply, vegetarian food has to be delicious if it is to gain more traction.”
But he cautioned: “This idea is still in its infancy. There are some within Pret who believe we should be more cautious and simply put in a dedicated fridge full of vegetarian food. Other colleagues are excited by the symbol and the challenge.”
Aside from growing sales of existing vegetarian products and the obvious animal welfare argument, Schlee said there were other reasons to believe that a dedicated shop selling vegetarian food-to-go might work.
He noted that vegetables are taking a starring role in a number of excellent restaurants, including ABC Kitchen in New York and Grain Store in London, while he said Michael Pollan’s book ‘Food Rules: “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly Plants”’ had also had an impact on his thinking.