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Pret a Manger boss appeals for end to train strikes after ‘huge’ impact

·3-min read

The boss of Pret a Manger has called on the unions and train companies to agree a deal to avoid further rail strikes after he said the sandwich and coffee chain suffered a “huge” hit to trade.

Chief executive Pano Christou said workers and transport groups need to reach agreement, given the impact on businesses across the UK, many of which are only just recovering from the pandemic.

Recent figures from Pret showed the train strike last month saw trading in its City of London and Canary Wharf outlets slump to 62% of pre-Covid levels in the week to Thursday June 23.

This was the lowest level since April and down from 88% of pre-pandemic levels the previous week, according to the latest Pret Index.

Trading at its London railway station sites fell to 78% of pre-Covid levels, having rebounded above pre-pandemic sales the previous week, while regional station outlets fell to 61% of pre-Covid levels.

Mr Christou told the PA news agency: “It was a huge negative impact on business for sure.

“Even the days in between were a lot quieter because services didn’t fully recover.”

He added that it has been “less than helpful” to businesses trying to get back on track from the pandemic.

“I’d like to see there’s an agreement with both parties so we can put this to bed,” he said.

His comments came as Pret’s latest figures show the group returned to profitability in March after suffering another year of hefty losses in 2021 amid lockdowns and coronavirus restrictions.

The group revealed it remained in the red with operating losses of £225.9 million last year, in new filings at Companies House.

That was an improvement on the £343 million loss seen in 2020 at the height of the pandemic thanks to a 17% rise in revenues to £461.5 million last year as restrictions lifted and workers returned to offices.

It said its recovery has “continued and accelerated” in 2022, with half-year revenues up 230% to £357.8 million, helping it return to profitability in March and becoming cash flow positive since May.

It is preparing to launch a new affordable menu range later this week in response to the cost-of-living crisis, which will comprise around 10 items.

But Mr Christou warned there will be inevitable further price rises across the company’s wide menu as it faces soaring costs.

Coffee beans have increased by 40% recently for the group, while it is facing double-digit increases for a raft of ingredients and Mr Christou said: “We have had to pass on some to the consumer.”

He added that price rises for customers have remained in single figures and, while there will be more to come, Pret is absorbing “as much as we can ourselves” before passing increases on to consumers.

The company has been boosting its presence outside London – where trade was hit particularly hard by the switch to working from home – since the start of the pandemic and last year saw sales grow faster outside the capital.

Two-thirds of its UK shop portfolio is now outside London’s Square Mile, with 36% of UK shops in regional cities and towns, while its online sales jumped by 37% in 2021.

It has also ramped up its overseas expansion, recently announcing four new franchise partnerships – including a deal last month with Reliance Brands to build the chain across India.

The firm now has 11,500 staff, including 8,700 in the UK alone, where it has 442 shops.

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