Ready to Pivot: How Pret a Manger Sandwiched Pre-COVID and Current Social Media Strategies
Updated: Mar 31
This was written for CAS 839: Media Analytics Communication in the Michigan State University Strategic Communications MA program.
Regardless of the brand story, these days it seems all social media (SM) marketing studies are divided into two segments: Pre-COVID and COVID. Pret a Manger (PaM), a “grab-and-go” sandwich chain founded in 1986, was a thriving business and a trendy brand before COVID hit (Waxman, 2020, p. 1; Pret a Manger, n.d.). The brand—pronounced “pret-ah-mahn-zhay”—that once eschewed traditional advertising is now in “survival mode” (Bhasin, 2013, p. 10; Hobbs, 2015; Nelson, 2020, p. 7). As of October 2020, the international brand operated 533 stores in England, Germany, China, and in selected U.S. markets (Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.) (Nelson, 2020). But as the pandemic forced people to work from home, the demand for quick lunches and on-the-go coffees dwindled. The new normal forced PaM, which is French for “ready to eat,” to pivot strategies on its social media channels (Appendix A).
Pre-COVID Social Media Strategies
PaM leadership exceled in positioning (high-profile, urban upscale, fast casual, not fast food) and audience identification (“time-starved,” healthy, values-driven, city customers) (Celentano, 2018), p. 18). Gilliland (2020a) states that PaM’s SM strategy leverages user-generated content, like @ mentions and SM conversations into brand sentiment (positive affinity), customer polls, Instagram product education stories, brand loyalty (customer-focused), and even crowdsourcing campaigns (recipe ideas). Non-traditional was on the menu for PaM: pop-up events (with sneak peeks of new menu items and free lunches) provided rich, visual content and material for SM conversations—complete with customized hashtags (#notjustforveggies, to market the stand-alone Veggie Pret spin-off, for example) (Chamberlain, 2017). PaM Chief Financial Officer Adam Jones said the objectives of the Veggie Pret pop-up were to crowdsource, innovate, and launch (as cited in Chamberlain, 2017). PaM Marketing Director Mark Palmer said the brand uses SM to “talk” to regular customers, thus improving the in-store experience through interactive SM engagement (as cited in Hobbs, 2015, p. 3). Palmer explains that an accessible price point attracts customers, and a preference for word-of-mouth and electronic word-of-mouth tells their brand story more effectively than traditional ads (Hobbs, 2015).
This intense brand loyalty often translates to increased purchases and spending (Beaty, 2021). PaM maintains a “cool kids” positioning (known simply as “Pret” to regular customers), and it is one of those brands that fosters a sense of inclusivity and group identity—bolstered by image and video content. The latter and former are effective drivers of engagement due to their sharing-friendly formats (Beaty, 2021).
Current Social Media Strategies
Smash cut to the present, and PaM has become a symbol of pre-COVID, bustling city, sidewalk sprinting life. University of London Professor Andy Pratt said PaM has become the poster child for days when people had lunch at their desks during an intense office day (as cited in Wallop, 2020). SM posts now regularly promote contact-less delivery options (cross-promotion with GrubHub and Deliveroo), the “Unlimited Coffee Pass,” a monthly subscription model (YourPret Barista), gift cards, and the “food envy” one would experience when they see your PaM items on a Zoom call. With phrases like “we’ve missed you,” “you’ve seen enough of your kitchen, we’ll take care of dinner,” “who says you can’t have it all?” and “new week, same me,” the brand has updated the message to fit a COVID world while maintaining a focus on customer, feeding the exclusivity positioning, and soliciting two-way SM conversations.
PaM also posts product information (home barista training videos) and philanthropic content (the Pret Coffee Fund, which empowers sustainable coffee farming). The PaM social feeds feature many infographics or text-over-image which can help create authority, audience appeal, and sharable content as well as educate audiences and provide the SM team with content that is easily repurposed content—a benefit for an international brand with many audiences and segments (Zate, 2020).
No matter how you slice it, the PaM Pivot seems to have paid off. According to research firm Wunderman Thompson UK, which examined millions of SM posts early in the pandemic (March 2020) on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, PaM mentions had increased by 3.574% and daily mentions remained consistent at 350% (99.1% of which are positive and a 77% increase from pre-COVID stats) (as cited in Retail Technology Innovation Hub, 2020). Social posts also drive customers to online shopping; in fact, PaM began selling coffee beans on Amazon (Gilliland, 2020b). In January 2021, PaM introduced a 50% off offer—first conceived on WhatsApp—which resulted in a 620% rise in SM engagement and a 66% boost in share of voice within one day (Rogers, 2021).
By shifting SM focus to delivery, online shopping, and a subscription service, PaM seems to have maintained—if not strengthened customer engagement and brand loyalty. If the new benchmark for SM success is political buy-in, then PaM has managed to sandwich zeitgeist and SM strategy. During summer 2020, United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson politicized a pro-National Health Service initiative by altering “Save the NHS” to “Save Pret” (Hyde, 2020). Despite the pandemic, PaM continues to adapt SM marketing to “meet customers where they are” (Gilliland, 2020b). Before the pandemic, these people were in offices, navigating crowded sidewalks, elevators, and highways. Now, the customers are in home offices, navigating kids and pets and “commutes” to the kitchen.
About Pret. (n.d.). Pret a Manger. https://www.pret.com/en-US/about-pret
Beaty, J. (2021, March 7). Creative use of social media metrics. [Video]. Retrieved from Michigan State University, Digital Media Strategies. Desire 2 Learn: https://mediaspace.msu.edu/media/Creative%20Use%20of%20Social%20Media%20Metrics%20(7m%2037s)/1_ar6nv8ui
Bhasin, K. (2013, March 8). Here’s what Pret a Manger’s president thinks every time you pronounce the name wrong. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-pronounce-pret-a-manger-2013-3
Celentano, D. (2019, June 25). Why Pret Manger [sic] is successful in fast casual dining. The Balance. https://www.thebalancesmb.com/how-pret-a-manger-succeeds-as-an-upscale-sandwich-chain-1326253
Chamberlain, L. (2017, April 20). Pret a Manger launches pop-up, social media effort in ‘not just for veggies’ campaign. GeoMarketing. https://geomarketing.com/pret-a-manger-launches-pop-up-social-media-effort-in-not-just-for-veggies-campaign
Gilliland, N. (2020a, June 25). 30 brands with excellent social media strategies.
Gilliland, N. (2020b, September 14). Will Pret a Manger’s new multi-channel model help it survive store closures? Econsultancy. https://econsultancy.com/will-pret-a-mangers-new-multi-channel-model-help-it-survive-store-closures/
Hobbs, T. (2015, April 17). Pret a Manger’s marketing boss on succeeding without advertising. Marketing Week. https://www.marketingweek.com/pret-a-mangers-marketing-boss-on-succeeding-without-advertising/
Hyde, M. (2020, August 28). Boris Johnson has given us a new mantra: Leave home. Forget the NHS. Save Pret. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/aug/28/boris-johnson-home-nhs-government-office-commute
Nelson, E. (2020, October 14). Pret a Manger will try anything to survive. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/14/business/pret-a-manger-london-pandemic.html
Retail Technology Innovation Hub. (2020, April 8). Pret a Manger a social media hit during Coronavirus while Wetherspoon tanks. https://retailtechinnovationhub.com/home/2020/4/8/pret-a-manger-a-social-media-hit-during-coronavirus-while-wetherspoon-tanks
Rogers, C. (2021, January ). This much I learned: Pret’s Becci Dive on ripping up the rulebook. Marketing Week. https://www.marketingweek.com/this-much-i-learned-pret-becci-dive-innovation/
Waxman , N. (2020, August 24). Grab-and-go sandwich chain Pret a Manger closes all but one Chicago location. Eater Chicago. https://chicago.eater.com/2020/8/24/21396276/pret-a-manger-sandwich-grab-and-go-chain-closed-chicago-pandemic-dandds-place-doughnuts-fundraiser
Wallop, H. (2020, September 20). ‘We’re developing a dinner menu—COVID is an opportunity’: Pret a Manger’s CEO on its fight for survival. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/sep/19/pret-a-manger-ceo-pano-christou-covid-opportunity
Zate, J. (2020, February 25). The social media marketer’s guide to infographic marketing. Sprout Social. https://sproutsocial.com/insights/infographic-marketing/
Pret a Manger Social Media Channels