April 3, 2012 11:16 am

Pret plans expansion on strong earnings

Sandwich chain Pret A Manger is planning to add 550 jobs in the UK this year on the back of strong revenue and earnings growth in 2011.

Clive Schlee, chief executive, said incoming employees would help to staff 44 new shops, over half of which will be in the UK. The company hopes to attract young people for the jobs, with plans to “[reach] out to the careers department of every school in the country in 2012 to encourage British school leavers to work for us”.

It is also expanding its apprenticeship programme for the homeless, with a target of recruiting up to 70 apprentices this year, up from about 50 that it employs at present.

Pret’s 2012 targeted openings are in line with its midterm strategy of 15 per cent annual growth in store numbers. It said on Tuesday that sales increased 15 per cent in 2011 to £377.3m while earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation rose 14 per cent to £52.4m.

The chain, majority-owned by the private equity firm Bridgepoint, has shops in the US and Hong Kong and opened two Paris venues this winter. Mr Schlee said trading in the French capital had been strong. “Parisians eat more puddings and fewer crisps than their London counterparts,” he said. “We did a lot of research on French tastes.”

Other cities the group has considered are Madrid, Barcelona and Berlin but Mr Schlee said they have given priority to settling into the French market. The group plans to open two more shops in Paris this year.

It withdrew from Japan about a decade ago, as well as retrenching in the US and Hong Kong, but began expanding again internationally in 2006.

“Ten years ago we went a bit fast” Mr Schlee said, adding that they were progressing more cautiously into the French market. “We’re growing shops one by one, carefully.”

Sales in the Parisian stores were about 15 per cent higher than in an average London outlet as French customers, for whom lunch is a more important meal, typically purchased three rather than two items. The choice of products was also adapted for the French market. While one-third of the range was marketed as “British classics” another third catered solely to French tastes, offering more baguette-sandwiches as well as puddings.

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