Opinion: British History 101

What you can learn from Pret A Manger

Kevin Higar, Author, Foodservice Marketing Consultant

Kevin Higar

It’s hard to believe we’re already approaching the end of 2012. In the foodservice world, that means it’s time to start focusing on how you will strategically drive success in 2013 and beyond.

Because of this, I’ve decided to address a hot topic currently dominating c-store discussions. If you aren’t a c-store retailer or the following doesn’t describe your situation, don’t close the page too quickly. Trust me: The lessons apply to any business with a foodservice program.

So what is this burning issue? It’s the age-old dilemma of how to overcome consumer stereotypes about the range of food offerings and product quality available on c-store shelves.

My suggestion? Learn from Pret A Manger, the popular British concept known for its emphasis on fresh, high-quality grab-and-go foods with big flavor profiles. When it entered the United States a few years ago, the brand faced a problem many c-stores grapple with: great products, but a lack of brand recognition and credibility that left locals skeptical to give the company a chance with something as critical as a growling tummy.

Sound familiar? Then I encourage you to learn from and “borrow” the successful strategies Pret put in place. Let’s examine some of Pret’s primary challenges and subsequent solutions, which focus around communication, convenience and courtesy.

1. “I have quality. Why won’t customers give me credit?” Pret puts maximum effort toward providing consumers with clean, neatly stacked shelves offering products pushed to the front of display cases. They understand people get serious impressions about a concept’s food program based on the neatness and organization of the overall operation. Pret is subtly providing customers with first-impression visual reassurance.

2. “This stuff is fresh! Really!” Did you know that at the end of each day Pret typically distributes leftover products to local charities? You may not, but Pret’s customers do! Sell-by dates on packaging are important, but when customers know Pret is making a conscious effort to address product inventory on a daily basis, that subtle freshness message can be even more powerful. Not only do customers feel closer to the concept because of its admirable business convictions, but they also, if only subconsciously, understand Pret is mindful of what is on the shelves and how long it’s been there.

3. “Unbelievable flavor!” Passion Facts are a series of signs inside Pret stores that display beautiful pictures of menu offerings, along with messages touting why customers should be totally stoked to consume these foods and beverages. They scream “Great Flavor!” And yes, the actual product really does look like what you see on the Passion Facts (the subtle moral here). Personally, I wish my senior high school photo had looked this good. My dating scene would have been infinitely better. But I digress.

Let’s conclude with one last Pret comparison. Remember that consumers are all about convenience. Once Pret customers make their purchase decision, the concept strives to have them out the door within 60 seconds. On top of that, staff members are known for smiling and being helpful during the process. If someone wants to grab and go but is having trouble navigating the options, a staff member is always close by to ease that stress with product information or shelf location.

So incorporate culinary communication, convenience and courtesy in your foodservice program. It’s a powerful “holy trinity” to include in any 2013 strategic plan.

Kevin Higar is director of research and consulting services for Technomic Inc., and author of “Always Let the Chicken Lead.” He can be reached at [email protected].

By Kevin Higar, Author, Foodservice Marketing Consultant
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