I shop at WH Smith with gritted teeth but I positively salivate when I spot a Pret A Manger. Some serious investors think likewise: the sandwich chain has just been sold for more than £1.5 billion by the US investment firm Bridgepoint to JAB Holdings, the vehicle of the German billionaire Reimann family who also own Krispy Kreme doughnuts and Kenco coffee.
Though recently criticised by the Advertising Standards Authority for describing its sandwiches as ‘natural’ when there are E-numbers in its bread, Pret has sustained the authenticity of its brand while expanding globally with the hand of high finance on its shoulder. That included, for a decade, the incongruous presence of McDonald’s as a 33 per cent shareholder — an investment that funded the chain’s expansion into the US. Like Tyrrells Crisps, the Herefordshire farm venture that was bought by a Texan company in 2016 for £300 million, Pret is an example of what British entrepreneurs and their backers are really good at: of course we’d love to build world-beating digital technology businesses, but we’re better at tasty snacks.
This is an extract from Martin Vander Weyer’s column in this week’s Spectator.