We are in the middle of a ‘real time data revolution’ – and it could have huge implications for the future

Somewhere in the mass of data about our health and habits there will be clues as to how government and the food industry can help us live more healthy lives, writes Hamish McRae

Thursday 29 July 2021 16:57
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<p>‘Every week, Pret a Manger tells Bloomberg how their food and drink sales are going at different locations’</p>

‘Every week, Pret a Manger tells Bloomberg how their food and drink sales are going at different locations’

The big reopening is happening. Or is it? We are so used to the string of contradictory statements about the economy that it is hard to know what to trust.

Take working from home (WFH). We know that some companies are encouraging their people back onto the office, while others are using the choice of WHF to attract staff. We all have our intuition as to where that will settle down – mine is that while there will be more remote working, office life will end up being pretty much as before. But our intuition may be wrong. We don’t really know what is happening, because the traditional data is always out of date. It tells us what was happening a month or more ago, and is usually revised anyway. It doesn’t help us understand the “now”.

Welcome to the real-time data revolution. There is a fun example of that in the Bloomberg Pret Index. Every week, Pret a Manger tells Bloomberg how their food and drink sales are going at different locations including the West End and City of London, central Paris and Hong Kong, and Midtown and Wall Street in New York. This is used to create an index, comparing sales with pre-pandemic levels. So last week the West End was 0.73, running at 73 per cent of the level of January 2020, while Hong Kong was 0.62, Midtown NY 0.51 – and so on (London suburbs are the only location where sales are up, by the way).

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