Britain's Pret A Manger turns to subscription drinks service to aid recovery

LONDON (Reuters) – British sandwich and coffee chain Pret A Manger said on Friday it would launch a subscription service for drinks, trying out a new business model to help it survive the coronavirus crisis, which has hammered its sales.

Owned by investment group JAB Holdings, Pret cut 2,800 jobs or a third of its workforce last month and reported sales across its UK shops down 60% year-on-year.

Pret has 367 shops in the United Kingdom, with many located on high streets, at transport hubs and close to offices that are still largely deserted, with people preferring to work from home.

With weekly sales back where they were a decade ago, Pret will be making one of the first high-profile innovations by a well-known company to take on the new landscape created by the pandemic.

From next Tuesday, it will offer a subscription service allowing customers to have a barista-prepared drink, including coffees, teas, hot chocolates, smoothies and frappes, up to five times a day for 20 pounds per month.

While the service will provide guaranteed income, Pret runs the risk of losing out if customers use their full allowance.

Pret said the subscription service was the first of its kind in the UK, though similar schemes exist in the United States.

All customers signing up to the mobile “YourPret Barista” service also get a month of free drinks starting from Tuesday.

“Subscription services like Netflix and Spotify have played a big part in keeping us positive throughout lockdown and after seeing on social media how excited customers were to be reunited with their favourite Pret drinks, we’ve been inspired to launch our own,” said Pret’s UK food & coffee director Briony Raven.

Pret has also launched new products, designed to reach customers in new ways. Examples include “Heat Me at Home” meals, its first ever range of ground coffee and espresso beans, sold via Amazon, and a new dinner menu available for delivery.

Pret is not alone in its struggles. On Thursday rival Costa Coffee (KO.N) said a restructuring brought about by COVID-19 meant it could shed up to 1,650 jobs.

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