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Pret a Manger’s Next Survival Strategy Is Outdoing Tesco in Its Own Backyard

The maroon sandwich behemoth will open four cafes in Tesco supermarkets as an experiment

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A man walking past the Pret café stores in London, during the Covid-19 pandemic
It’s trying to keep the lights on as its office clientele continues to dwindle
May James/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Beleaguered sandwich chain Pret a Manger’s next strategy for outlasting the impact of COVID-19 on the office culture it so relies on is outdoing Tesco in its own backyard. Do not enter Tesco to buy a supermarket meal deal, or sandwich, or snack, it shall say — enter Tesco, bypass all of these things, and buy them from us instead.

The first of this four-store experiment will open in Tesco’s Kensington superstore, with chief executive Pane Christou saying that “as the U.K. emerges from lockdown, this partnership with Tesco is one way in which we’re transforming our business model to adjust to a new way of living and working,” according to Sky News.

Pret already has a tie-up to sell its frozen croissants and coffee beans in Tesco supermarkets, so it’ll be hoping for some earned brand familiarity in that new context, which is the whole challenge the company faces: get people to care about Pret a Manger when they are not a) in an office or b) in a Pret a Manger. The days of summer 2020, when the meteorological heat wave and some good old fashioned right-wing-press-office-death-drive-op-eds were urging people back to work, to be fuelled by Pret’s maniacal new coffee subscription, appear long gone.

Fundamentally, all of Pret’s new innovations are asking customers to care about the coffee, the sandwich, or the croissant more than the act and performance of getting it — more than the fact that the coffee costs 99p, or that it happens to be where they get their preferred sandwich from, or that they might get a free one in a company-restricted random act of kindness just when yet another office workday has angle-ground a little more shiny marble from their soul.

And having tried out a kind of inert pastoral marketing strategy on its coffee that scanned as more forced than a ristretto from an espresso machine; a fabulously ordinary takeaway dinner menu; an ineptly globetrotting takeaway dinner menu; and making 1,000 staff redundant before trying all of these rescue strategies, Pret is becoming an interesting case study of what recovery looks like for brands which have the time and money to test it. In a position to figure out what will work best at scale, Pret can do all of these things without an immediate threat to its future (or it’s playing things extremely fast and loose, in which case, okay!) Near infinite adaptations, and adaptations of those adaptations, are not a luxury many businesses seemingly devastated by a sea change in metropolitan working rhythms can afford.

At least it’s never going to try the cursed Pret a Manger ice cream van. Is it, Pret?