Pret 'nervous' on UK despite stellar results

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The Independent Online

The chief executive of Pret A Manger, the sandwich and coffee chain, has revealed it is "nervous" about the prospect of a spike in interest rates and UK unemployment but has continued to increase sales this year after a barnstorming performance in 2010.

Clive Schlee also said that the chain plans to open its first outlet in France in the centre of Paris later this year. He described it as the "most Pret oriented of the cities in Europe" due to Parisians' understanding of bread and other quality food. On the outlook for the UK, where the chain opened in 1986 and has 221 shops, he said: "What Pret is nervous about is rising interest rates and unemployment."

But he added: "So far we have been pleasantly surprised by the momentum in the first quarter. We have stayed in mid-single digit like-for-like sales growth. We are reasonably well placed. People who come into the city generally have jobs and mortgages."

Mr Schlee said Pret customers continue to shop at both ends of its menu, with 99p filter coffee and the Italian prosciutto artisan baguette at £3.50 selling strongly. Following its launch of porridge in the spring of 2010, Pret now sells more than 50,000 bowls of the food each week.

Pret A Manger – which the private equity firm Bridgepoint acquired in a £350m deal in 2008 - posted a 37 per cent rise in underlying profits to £46.1m for the year to 30 December, on sales up 17 per cent to £327.5m. On a like-for-like basis, sales soared by 9.8 per cent in 2010. Pret, which also has 31 stores in the US and 10 in Hong Kong, plans to open 30 shops this year.