Categories: PeopleHow I Travel

Exclusive: Reliance Brands To Bring Pret A Manger To India — The Two Brands Tell Us More

In an exclusive interview with Travel + Leisure India & South Asia, Darshan Mehta, MD, Reliance Brands Limited (RBL) and Pano Christou, CEO, Pret a Manger deep dive into the partnership, launch and entry of the popular fresh food and organic coffee chain in India. By Ishika Laul 

Anyone who lives in London or has been to the city will tell you that Pret a Manger is their go-to place for food and coffee. Londoners swear by this sandwich chain. For those who wish to get a taste of this unique yet simple chain are in for some good news!  Thanks to Reliance Brands Limited (RBL), Pret a Manger is ready to foray into the Indian market.

French for ‘ready to eat’, Pret a Manger is a 35-year-old brand with 550 shops globally across nine markets. Everywhere, the mission remains the same: to serve fresh handmade food and good organic coffee. Naturally, then, it makes sense for RBL’s maiden foray into the food industry to bring the Pret-experience to one of the biggest retail markets in the world.

Led by the enigmatic Darshan Mehta, RBL currently operates more than 1,937 doors in India, along with a global footprint across 16 countries. In a strategic partnership with global fresh food and organic coffee chain,Pret a Manger, RBL is bringing a unique format which is the ideal and localised balance between dining in and takeaways.

In exclusive conversation with Travel+Leisure India & South Asia, Darshan Mehta, MD, RBL and Pano Christou, CEO, Pret a Manger, divulge into details about this exciting new partnership.

T+L India: There’s excitement about RBL’s entry into the food market and about bringing Pret a Manger to India. Where do you see the synergy between these two brands?

Darshan Mehta: We have been looking at making an entry into food as a category simply because we follow the Indian consumer and factor in what the consumer is looking at moving to next. When it comes to dining, people are looking for fine quality of food with fine and fresh ingredients, but served in a non-stuffy environment. And with eating out becoming a norm and eating in becoming an exception, then the opportunity was clear.

With Pret, it’s an extremely special and unique brand; it’s not QSR. Instead it operates in a format which offers a great balance between eating in and takeaway, hot foods and cold, vegetarian or vegan options and meat-driven menus along with, organic coffee and beverages. Most importantly, there is localisation but it is not a niche local concept. The conversation happened at an opportune point of time, and I was surprised by how quickly the conversation moved on!

Pano Christou: We are very excited! The philosophy between RBL and Pret a Manger is very similar. Both the brands have a very long-term view on business and our approach to business. The opportunity to bring Pret to one of the biggest populations in the world is just very exciting!

T+L India: What makes Pret a Manger so special and interesting for RBL?

Darshan Mehta: We love the format. We love the pricing. We love their democratic appeal. Everyone goes to Pret for different reasons and that is one of their strongest USPs.

T+L India: There are quite a few homegrown spaces active within the organic food market with fresh ready-to-eat menus and offerings. How do you see Pret faring in terms of the overall appeal of the brand?

Darshan Mehta: The key differentiator is consistency. If I want to have wholesome good quality food—and something that appeals to my palette and my wallet—I’d go to Pret a Manger blindly. Pret can deliver that experience consistently across the world.

T+L India: Where can we expect to see the first Pret a Manger in India? What’s the strategy for expansion?

Pano Christou: Mumbai would definitely be the first city. From there, we want to learn how consumers are interacting with the brand, how the menu is faring with the Indian audience, and move on from there.

Darshan Mehta: Travel is a going to play a very big part in where we want to be available next. Considering the odd hours at which flights operate, airports are going to become a big part of our secret sauce.

T+L India: Which brands, according to you, would be your competitors in this space?

Pano Christou: Based on what makes Pret special, and if you have a good value proposition, it doesn’t matter what the rest of the brands are doing. However, there are quite a few brands we look up to — both, MNCs (multinational corporations) and QSRs (quick service restaurants)—for the amazing work they’ve done in India.

Darshan Mehta: Honestly, there is no competition in context with the Indian market. There are one-off homegrown brands but in terms of scale and the larger canvas, there is no competition. What we’re offering with Pret is just high quality, wholesome affordable and quick turnaround food with a nice place to sit and experience. [With this] there is an opportunity to create a new category in India.

T+L India: Are you looking at customising the menu for the Indian audience?

Pano Christou: Yes. When we have grown across geographies [in the past], we have always looked at tailoring the menu to the local palate. When you walk into a Pret in Mumbai, you will have baguettes as you do in London or in New York. But the recipe within that baguette will be slightly tailored to the local palate. We have used this formula when we explored new markets in the past as well, and have also worked with the local teams and incorporated learnings from our operations in other markets as well.

T+L India: Popularly, Pret is preferred as a breakfast option. Is that the USP/culture you’re planning to bring to India as well?

Pano Christou: Interestingly, the location from where Pret is operating around the world decides whether the space is more for breakfast or lunch. The trends differ depending on the culture of the destination. People are creatures of habit. The consistency that Pret has demonstrated helps people build the habit. As we open the brand in India, we will capture these learnings along the way.

Darshan Mehta: There are a consumer shifts in trends and behaviours city by city even within India.

T+L India: Who is your ideal Indian consumer?

Darshan Mehta: It’s very democratic and a broad horizon of consumers. I have seen three generations of families eating at a Pret. There’s something for everyone at every level at Pret!

T+L India: What are the price points you’re looking at?

Pano Christou: Since it’s different people and age groups, it’s important for us to have a range of price points across entry level, mid-range and premium.

T+L India: When can we expect to see Pret live and ready to experience?

Darshan Mehta: Personally,  this is a new arena of learning and I’m finding new nuggets of information as we develop this further. Just today we were discussing organic beans versus arabica! Professionally, with our shared values and the craving to get the base foundation right, my key goal is if by 2030, Indians are not in the three key geographies of Pret a Manger in the world, then I’m doing something wrong!

T+L India: Which city do you love visiting for its food?

Darshan Mehta: London!

Pano Christou: London! But I’d have to add Osaka because I love Japanese food.

T+L India: What’s the next place on your bucket list?

Darshan Mehta: Finland.

Pano Christou: Honestly, this has been a relatively short trip to India and my first visit so I’d like to come back, spend more time, and experience the destination, especially because I love Indian food.

We can’t wait to see what these two enigmatic brands have in store for us! The launch for Pret a Manger Mumbai by RBL is scheduled for this fiscal year. Stay tuned for more updates.

Related: Interview: MasterChef’s Sashi Cheliah Dishes On His New Restaurant In India

Bayar Jain

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