Pret a Manger’s next survival strategy might be opening two (2) cafes in petrol stations. The beleagured maroon sandwich chain will trial the plan at a BP-branded forecourt in Southgate, north London, before potentially opening a second by the end of 2022. That’s in 19 months’ time.
The tie-up with Motor Fuel Group (MFG) follows the news that Pret will attempt to beat Tesco in its own backyard, by opening cafes that serve sandwiches, wraps, salads, crisps, and drinks in a supermarket, the place many people go to buy their sandwiches, wraps, salads, crisps, and drinks. 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 idea of the petrol station pilot is “significant step in Pret’s transformation plan to bring the brand to more people,” according to Propel.
Two petrol station cafes are unlikely to make a significant dent in what Pret has lost: the daily commuter-office-lunch rhythm that was its jambon and beurre, that made its suite of premium central London locations a prized asset rather than an absolute nightmare. In its continued absence, the brand has 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; a maniacal coffee subscription; and before all of these, sacking over 1,000 staff.
Its wheel-of-fortune approach to strategy and the small-scale nature of the trials suggests it is not in immediate danger of collapse (and if it is, well, it’s just playing very fast and loose.) Near infinite adaptations, and adaptations of those adaptations, are not a luxury many businesses devastated by a sea change in metropolitan working rhythms and habits can afford — but Pret can, and, thus, it seems, it will.