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Why Panera Bread’s Parent Company Is Buying Pret a Manger

The sandwich chain dominates grab-and-go, a market where Starbucks has been trying to capture a bigger slice

JAB buys Pret a Manger PA Images via Getty Images

The owner of Peet’s, Stumptown Coffee, and Panera Bread plans to buy Pret a Manger, the grab-and-go U.K.-based sandwich chain, according to the Wall Street Journal. JAB Holding Co. which also counts Krispy Kreme, Keurig coffee, and Einstein Bros. Bagels among its brands, plans to use its resources to expand Pret throughout the U.S.

Pret, which markets itself as a quick, health-conscious, all-day eatery, is a mostly inoffensive lunch option for 9-to-5 workers in dense cities. Chia pudding, hard boiled egg “protein pots,” and fresh fruit bowls sit next to hot meatball sandwiches, cold tuna salad sandwiches spiked with fresh herbs, and colorful chicken salads. Though it’s a sandwich chain, Pret has no obvious direct competitor in the U.S. Other lunch chains — even fast-food operators — prepare or at least reheat meals to order. At Pret, all of the items are already made and packaged; some, like cheesy panini, sit on hot shelves, while most of the items — including cold salads and sandwiches — are arranged in neat rows on refrigerated shelves.

In some ways, the chain competes with Starbucks’ grab-and-go lunch offerings (Pret also serves coffee drinks, though it’s not known for them), and in other ways it could be compared to a faster Panera Bread.

Known for its maroon logo and rows of open refrigerators, Pret was founded in London in 1983; it remains popular in the U.K. In the U.S., Pret locations are concentrated in East Coast cities. There are still under 100 outlets in the U.S., which means most Americans are probably not familiar with the brand. But JAB, a Luxembourg-based company, confirmed the purchase to the Wall Street Journal in a deal values Pret — which also operates locations in Europe, the Middle East, and China — at $2 billion.

Its name means “ready to eat” in French, and was a derivation of the fashion world’s use of prêt-à-porter, or “ready to wear.” Ready-made sandwiches have always been a hallmark of Pret’s offerings. As it expanded into the United States, soups as well as salads and other hot plates were added to the offerings, which now also include breakfast pastries.

Earlier this year, JAB bought Dr. Pepper and Snapple. In the last few years, it’s been snapping up coffee companies on both sides of the market, from retail-focused brands like Keurig to third-wave roasters like Chicago-based Intelligentsia. That could be good news for Pret — if JAB uses its coffee expertise to target consumers tired of waiting in Starbucks’ long lines.