Pret A Manger has bought Eat and vowed to convert many of the chain’s stores into “Veggie Prets”.
The move is in response to growing consumer demand for vegetarian and vegan options on the high street, Pret said on Wednesday.
Pret opened its first vegetarian store as a pop-up in September 2016 but made it permanent after it proved its popularity.
Despite that success, just four of Pret’s 400 UK stores are vegan.
Clive Schlee, chief executive of Pret, said: “We have been developing the Veggie Pret concept for over two years and we now have four hugely successful shops across London and Manchester. The acquisition of the Eat estate is a wonderful opportunity to turbocharge the development of Veggie Pret and put significant resources behind it.”
Food businesses have increasingly sought to capitalise on the rise of plant-based diets. Pret’s competitor Greggs has had success with widespread coverage of its vegan sausage roll.
Meat-free burger maker Impossible Foods saw its value triple to $4bn (£3bn) in less than two days when it debuted on Wall Street earlier this month.
Pret will be hoping to profit from that trend while turning around the fortunes of Eat, which has been struggling with hefty losses and exploring the possibility of shutting stores. Eat lost £17.3m on sales of just under £95m in its last financial year.
Phil Hails-Smith, corporate partner at law firm Joelson, said: “This story is as much about the success of Pret vs its competitors as it is about the failure of Eat. And the failure of Eat means that Pret can buy its sites and immediately rebrand them as ‘Veggie Pret’, which I have no doubt will happen.
“In turn, this points to the macro trend of veggie and vegan focused food brands becoming more successful.”
While the number of vegan and vegetarian options has exploded over the past couple of years, research into the actual number of people living a meat-free lifestyle has delivered mixed messages.
Food delivery service Just Eat recorded a more than 10-fold increase in demand for vegetarian options on its platform in 2017 while more recent research from data company Kantar suggests a far more modest rise.
The number of meat-free meals consumed in the UK is estimated to have risen by 150m to 4.4bn. Less than 1 per cent of people in the UK follow a vegan diet.
Eat chief executive Andrew Walker said: “Eat’s passionate and talented team are what make the business; their commitment to providing our customers with great food and excellent service is at the heart of the company’s outstanding recent performance. I am delighted that their efforts have been recognised through this transaction.”
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