One of the things I really enjoy about the UK is the widespread availability of “instant takeaway food.” It’s very easy to find something in a plastic wrapper that is of relatively good quality. By no means should the quality of plastic-wrapped foods be the final measure of a culture, but it sure is nice have affordable, tasty picnic lunch within about 5 minutes reach.
People in the US who haven’t visited the UK probably don’t understand. Sure we have “fast food.” We even have a culture dominated by fast food. But the food we get from a restaurant like McDonalds actually takes longer and is less tasty than the food people in the UK can pick up off the shelf at a store like Pret a Manger. Not only do they have a wide selection of cold sandwiches (made fresh that day, it seems), but they’ve even got hot wraps under heat lamps that, miraculously, are tasty and melty when you open them up 15 minutes after buying them.
I’m going out on a limb here, but I suspect that the popularity of Pret in the UK has probably had a huge influence on the entire “ready-made food” market there. While most chain restaurants in the US strive to be the next McDonalds, most chain markets, delis, newsagents, drug stores, supermarket, everybody in the UK strives to be the next Pret – or at least keep you from going to Pret. Thats how it seemed to me, anyway.
I like Pret, and I appreciate what I assume they’ve done for the UK food landscape. I like them so much that I decided to spend some of my free time just browsing their corporate home page. While taking in various facts about the company I was amused to see this clever example of “marketing a negative”:
They’ve used the predictability of a “franchising” link on fast-food websites as a means of drawing attention to the fact that they don’t. The “Franchising” link rates top level placement at most fast-food corporate sites because they’re hoping business people will notice the link and decide to open a new location:
So what use is the “Franchising” link on the Pret page? It’s not there for the hapless business person who’s curious about opening a franchise. It’s there to demonstrate for all who view it that Pret is too cool for franchising. You’d like to replicate us, but it just can’t be done. We’re above the fray when it comes to all of your typical fast-food expectations, especially when it comes to franchising:
“Franchising – sorry we don’t. Please don’t call us and ask for a franchise because we don’t; we really don’t. We don’t franchise. The fact is, we don’t like to franchise, so we don’t.”
Giving top-billing to these sassy statements next to feel-good headings like “natural food,” “good jobs,” and “sustainability” gives viewers the impression that Pret is a real exception. Finally, a fast-food chain that’s bucking the trend in all the important ways. They’re so warm and fuzzy, surely it’s all right for me to eat here, even several times a week! It’s good for the environment, I think. And will solve world hunger and eventually end all war. Pret for all!
In fact, Pret’s and McDonald’s corporate pages couldn’t be more different. Pret is the anti-Ronald and McDonalds is the anti-Pret. Which is why it’s so amusing that McDonalds owns 1/3 of Pret! (Thanks to Marko Karppinen for pointing this out to me). Clearly Pret recognizes the friction this may cause in their customers’ thinking. Doesn’t being part-owned by the anti-Pret cast doubt on their rosy public image? Pret responds accordingly:
“McDonald’s do not have any direct influence over what we sell or how we sell it; nor would they want to. They have invested in Pret because they like what we do.”
Why would a multi-national corporation want to have influence over a business they own a full third of?
Pret really knows how to market a negative.