The onset of the coronavirus crisis caused Pret to “power up the engines” and move at pace with its digital transformation strategy, UK MD Clare Clough has said.

Speaking at MCA’s the conversation, Clough said that as the country went into lockdown, Pret found out “very sharply” the consequences of being too reliant on in-store trade, causing it to accelerate its digital development.

In August, the business was forced to undergo a complete restructure in its retail arm – permanently closing 30 stores and making 2,800 employees redundant – but Clough revealed that another area of the business, its support centre, was subject to a far more positive restructure of its own.

Intended to set up the business for “future success,” Pret is in the process of transferring resources to teams, activities and additional channels that will drive necessary change, she said.

Alongside its new ‘YourPret Barista’ coffee subscription service, which has already exceeded the brand’s sign-up forecast fourfold in the first month, Clough explained that a primary element of its digital drive going forward will be its delivery offer.

The brand currently operates the service in over 80 of its London stores across multiple partners, and whilst it was a “very small part of the business pre-covid,” the business plans to invest “a lot of energy into it in the next six months,” she said.

“We’ve seen significant growth and we’re having a record week every single week in delivery sales, which is very encouraging.

“We’re just working to finesse that and embed it into the operation in a way that makes it easy for the shops to pick up orders, and to make sure the customers get the experience that we want them to have.”

Comprising approximately 2% of overall sales before the pandemic, Clough said delivery peaked during lockdown at around 20%, and currently stands at approximately 6%, “and the easier we make it for shops to do a great job on the delivery, the more we expect that to grow.”

Having seen good participation across all dayparts for delivery – including an uptick in dinner orders which presents a new opportunity for what has traditionally been seen as a breakfast, lunch or to-go offer – Clough said it will be applying the lessons learned about innovation and new channels across the business.

Whilst it is putting the conversion of Eat and Veggie Pret stores “on hold” for the time being, she said that the opportunities for its vegetarian and vegan offer go far beyond its 10 physical stores.

“Being able to take something from a very small physical shop estate more quickly to more people is a new skill we’re really learning,” she said. “We’ll be looking to really optimise that for Veggie Pret.”

“We’ve got that on delivery channels as but we’re also thinking about how we use Veggie Pret kitchens as dark kitchens to supply core Pret units, and take more of the range to them.

“We’re incredibly proud of the vegan classics range in our Veggie Pret shops and now we’re thinking about opportunities to get them into more shops so that more customers can enjoy them.”

And it won’t be long before customers can enjoy Pret products off supermarket shelves as well, as the business plans to launch “retail-friendly” coffee packs to certain stores imminently.

“We also launched some products into grocery retail on Amazon for the first time earlier in the year, and we’re going to see some of those products hit some of the supermarket shelves shortly,” Clough revealed.

“Some more retail-friendly pack sizes will be going into Waitrose and Ocado within the next month, and then a broader range of products will follow into other retail outlets at the beginning of next year.”

Having made it through what has undoubtedly been a challenging time for the brand, Clough said it has finally reached a “stable position.”

“I think it’s now time for us to really look at how we stabilise our own business,” she said. “There’s the digital transformation and a lot of other projects going on that should come to fruition within the next six months, which combined with an easing of restrictions will be very useful.

“We’re focusing now on what more we can do for ourselves, having been very grateful for the support we had through the most difficult trading period.”