Pret and Abokado close London stores

Nicola Knight
Senior Analyst - Food-To -Go

Date : 19 October 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to severely reduce footfall in city centres, London-centric food-to-go operators announce more store closures and redundancies.

Pret closing six more London stores

UK food-to-go specialist Pret has announced that it will be making a further 400 staff redundant and closing six more London stores as the impact of the coronavirus continues to take its toll on footfall in the capital.  These measures follow previous announcements over the summer outlining plans to cut 3,000 jobs (over a third of its UK workforce) and close 30 stores across the country, including 10 in London.

Pret stated: “Over the past four months, Pret has experienced consistent sales growth, with consecutive weeks of trading progress since April. However, this growth has slowed since the end of September as covid-19 infection rates have increased. Pret will, therefore, be consulting on a number of adjustments within specific areas of the UK business. Not all shops will be impacted, and the changes are expected to result in the loss of 400 jobs.” 

UK managing director Clare Clough said: “It’s absolutely right that we take steps to stop the spread of the virus and tackle the new wave of infections. Sadly, the result of the rise in infections and the necessary shift in public health guidance mean that our recovery has slowed. We’ve said all along that it’s up to Pret to decide our own future and that we must adapt to the new situation we find ourselves in. That’s why we have to make these further changes as we continue to transform our business model and prepare for the six months ahead. We are doing everything we can to support our team members and to prevent further job losses at Pret.” 

Abokado enters administration

Another London-based food-to-go specialist, Abokado, also annouced that it is making its entire workforce redundant as the company is sold in a pre-pack administration.  The business was founded in 2004 and had 19 stores in London, all of which have been closed since March.  It hopes to re-emerge at some point.

Founder Mark Lilly said: "The impact of covid-19 on the hospitality and leisure industry has been catastrophic and I feel for each and every business owner and employee within this sector. However, for a business such as Abokado, which is entirely dependent on London’s office community, the overnight shift to working from home and the emptying out of central London has been simply devastating. Our market, overnight, ceased to exist."

Focus on transformation programme

Pret’s reliance on office and commuter traffic has placed it under severe pressure as working from home has increased during the pandemic.  Its transformation programme will see it “rip up the rule book” as it attempts to bring the brand to more people.  Recent initiatives include:

In another step towards taking Pret to where customers are, earlier this week the company announced a new strategic partnership with motorway services operator Moto. The first Pret Moto shop at Cherwell Valley is scheduled to open in December, with a second planned at Moto’s new Rugby service area in early 2021. Pret currently operates a site with Welcome Break at its South Mimms services.  Two sites at Roadchef services on the M56 and M25 have recently closed.

Clare Clough commented: “Working with Moto is an exciting step for Pret as we begin to expand our estate at motorway services. We know many Moto customers are looking for freshly prepared food, which they can pick up on the go, and Pret can offer a delicious menu, and the speedy, friendly service our customers are used to.”

Other food-to-go operators focus on drive thru

As Pret and Abokado close stores, coffee specialist Costa Coffee has said that it is on track to open over 60 stores this year with a focus on drive thru and including one in a Morrisons supermarket car park in Newcastle-under Lyme.  This follows the news last week that Canadian coffee shop chain Tim Horton's will be expanding its UK presence, also with a focus on drive thru. 

These chains already have well-developed drive-thru capabilities, a format which has proved resiliant during the pandemic due to its low contact service, so they are well-placed to prioritise these openings.  Perhaps the drive thru format is something that we will see Pret experiment with in the future as it seeks to target suburban customers through new locations and services.

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