Pret A Manger sets its sights on expansion

Kasmira Jefford
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PRET A MANGER is to create 550 jobs in Britain and step up its expansion plans abroad after it unveiled soaring revenue and earnings growth in 2011.

Chief executive Clive Schlee said the sandwich chain plans to “invest heavily in future growth” with at least 44 shop openings this year, of which 24 will open in the UK.

Over half will open around transport hubs in London and in towns in the south east of England, Schlee said.

The sandwich maker hopes to lure school leavers to work for the group by “reaching out to the careers department of every school in the country” in a bid to encourage more British applicants.

The fast food industry came under fire from employment minister Chris Grayling last year for not doing enough to attract British workers in times of high unemployment.

“The British have traditionally not applied to the fast food business. I don’t think they have valued or understood the careers there enough,” Schlee told City A.M.

“We will try and tell them that they could be running a big business in three or four years – its very good training,” he added.

Schlee was speaking as the group unveiled a 15 per cent rise in sales to £377.3m with the group making earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation of £52.4m, up by 14 per cent on 2010.

The chain – majority owned by the private equity firm Bridgepoint – has 294 shops in Britain, the US, Hong Kong and recently opened two in Paris.

Schlee said Pret’s shops in the French capital were trading well, with sales up around 15 per cent on UK stores.

“Parisians are buying more puddings and fewer crisps than their London counterparts and they are very fond of our British carrot cake and home baked cookies,” he said.

Pret this year plans to open two more shops in Paris, two in Hong Kong and 14 more in the US, including its maiden store in Boston.

“We are making the shops bigger in the US which has been a big break-through for us.”

Schlee added that Pret had also gradually reduced its prices in the US making its food “a more affordable habit” in the country’s competitive fast food market.

The company was founded in 1986 by college friends Julian Metcalfe and Sinclair Beecham, who along with senior management own about 33 per cent of the business, while Goldman Sachs also has a small stake.

Bridgepoint, whose retail portfolio also includes Fat Face and Hobbycraft in Britain, bought its stake in 2008 in a deal that valued the chain at £345m, including debt.