The fact a big chain is championing a standalone veggie concept is ‘a real milestone for vegetarianism’, Pret A Manger chief executive Clive Schlee told MCA, but said there needed to be a real push to develop Veggie Pret’s menu in order to make it distinctive from its sister sites.

Speaking on the back of the c£60m deal to acquire EAT’s estate, Schlee said it was too early to say what the scale of the conversions would be to Veggie Pret sites, but that it would be the preference and was the driving force behind the deal.

He said that Pret had a lot of respect for the work that Andrew Walker and his team have done with the EAT brand. It is understood that Walker will stay on in the interim, while the deal is going through, but that nothing more long-term has been decided.

The deal comprises the entire estate of 89 company-owned shops and eight partner sites run by franchisees, including its travel hub and international locations.

With regards to the franchisees he said that decisions would be made on a case by case basis, and that for the international pipeline of sites, which includes Disneyland Paris train station, Marne La Valee, and Bahrain Airport, discussions would take place with a view to these opening as Pret sites if agreed by both parties.

“We will speak to each individual franchisee and see whether they are enjoying the location, whether they are making money, and if they want to invest in turning the sites into Pret. We’ll then look at which would be better – Veggie or traditional Pret – though the chances are the ones in the travel locations will probably be better suited as a Pret rather than Veggie Pret, unless there is another Pret nearby,” he explained.

Schlee said the EAT sites would continue to operate as normal, run by the EAT management team, until the deal was approved by the Competition Markets Authority, and that it was too early to say what would happen with regards to the roles of those on EAT’s senior team once the deal has gone through.

He said that the hold up for vegetarian eating has been the quality of the food, and while sales in Veggie Pret stores were slightly lower than Pret – largely down to the breakfast offer – Pret intended to put proper investment into the menus at Veggie Pret and focus the food development teams on vegetarian food. “I am very confident that once we have pushed the food and drink part the Veggie Prets will do very well,” he added.

Commenting on the risk of cannibalising sales of Pret’s vegetarian products, Schlee said it was important that its Veggie Pret offer was distinctive. “The food and drink menu has got to be expanded so the customer sees there is a clear reason to be vegetarian. If Veggie Pret isn’t pushed, cajoled and developed then you have a danger of cannibalisation,” he said.

He said the scale of the conversions to Veggie Pret sites would in part be dependent on whether the sites had kitchens, or room to install them. “There will be a strong preference to make it a Veggie Pret if there are other Prets nearby, and if we can’t make it a Veggie Pret because there is no room for a kitchen then we may supply it from another nearby Pret, but we would never have a Veggie Pret supplied by a traditional Pret,” he said.