It’s not often you see queues to get into sandwich shops but Pret a Manger’s latest meat-free store in east London has had customers lining the street to get in.
The Shoreditch store is the major brand’s second foray into veggie-only outlets. The first – in London’s Soho – was initially intended as a month-long pop-up during summer 2016. It was only after a massive spike in sales and major buzz that CEO Clive Schlee decided to turn the shopfront green long term, writing on his blog that the ‘move towards a plant-based diet is gathering momentum, especially among millennials’.
He added:“Vegetarians and vegans are an articulate and social media-savvy group. Many of you have been advocating eating less meat for years and have been thrilled to see a major UK business take up the cause.”
In late March of this year, the CEO announced a second store would open in Shoreditch. He said: “A lot of Pret staff wanted their shops to go Veggie, but Great Eastern St got the call up based on the high levels of vegetarian sales in the area.”
When the shop opened some days later, it generated massive interest in both the mainstream and specialised press. Vice went down to tempt queueing customers with chicken, as vegan influencers live-streamed the event on Facebook. When you really think about that, it’s pretty amazing. There are many Pret a Manger stores up and down the country – the buzz the veggie store generated offers an exciting glimpse into how meat-free is going more mainstream.
So what did I think of the shop?
The decor is clean, functional and in a neat move, Pret’s trademark red is replaced with green. There’s loads of seating downstairs, additional stools and tables upstairs, and the standard Pret set-up with fridges against the wall and counter service to pay, buy coffee and confectionary items, and heat up wraps etc.
Over the last year, Pret a Manger has responded extremely well to customer demand for more vegetarian and vegan food. As a result, many of the chain’s plant-based options are available in most stores. This includes tasty soups, sandwiches, salads and some desserts including chia seed pudding and of course the ubiquitous fruit salads. The veggie store has around 20 new recipes on offer.
The two notable vegan products you won’t find elsewhere are the vegan mac n greens and the salted caramel brownies. When I popped in, we managed to snag the last two brownies. These tasty treats have been hugely popular and no wonder – perfectly sized, these decadent treats sandwich two layers of chewy chocolate brownie with a gooey sweet caramel. Not a healthy bite – but a tasty one.
The vegan mac and greens has also garnered its fair share of social media hype – and this is a really tasty option. Macaroni, cauliflower and greens are smothered in a creamy, cheesy sauce, and topped with juicy sweet baby tomatoes – the perfect counterpoint. A really well-conceived and executed dish.
Shoreditch is a vibrant area for vegan food, with a number of independent retailers selling really high quality innovative grub (try either King Cook’s Home or Cook Daily in BoxPark to see what I mean). Hopefully the high street giant won’t pull custom away from these smaller retailers. Having said that, I think there is a huge value in what Pret a Manger is doing to shine a spotlight on tasty plant-based food. The chain should be congratulated in leading the pack on this one. I’m excited to see what the business will launch next in its quest to bring meat-free meals to its ‘healthy fast food’ audience.