The real reason Pret A Manger fell out of love with smoothies

pret a manger
  • Pret A Manger will remove smoothies, frappes, and milkshakes from its menus
  • The UK sandwich and coffee chain will replace them by expanding its iced drinks range
  • More than 80% of UK consumers ordered an iced drink the last year and they now make up 70% of Starbucks’ total sales

SMOOTHIES HAVE caused Pret A Manger problems for some time. Pricey, labour intensive, and time consuming for staff, they stand at odds with the UK coffee chain’s core model of speed and convenience.

In December 2021, the BBC reported that thousands of customers had complained because stores were habitually “out of smoothies”, while Pret staff said they were left feeling overwhelmed by orders. This led to plans to cut them from the £25-a-month subscription – before a U-turn following public outcry.

It came as little surprise when Pret announced this week that it would be phasing out all smoothies, frappes, and milkshakes from April – for good. Although they will still be available in select stores until the end of May, the thorn in the side is finally being removed.

Instead, a new range of iced coffee and tea drinks will be rolled out, with purpose-built ice machines to take the place of blenders. “We know that Pret customers are huge fans of iced coffees,” said a Pret spokesperson. “So over the next few months we’ll be increasing their availability across more Pret locations.”

Although an initial backlash was undoubtedly anticipated, Pret is clearly confident in its decision. It called the move its “biggest drinks innovation in more than five years” and it will waste no time in making the transition.

It has also come at the same time that the company announced it will give staff their third pay rise in 12 months, amid labour shortages. Pret said its baristas would now be among “the highest paid in the industry”, able to earn up between £11.80 and £14.10 an hour based on location and experience.

iced coffee drinks

Pret A Manger’s cool move

Pret has been decisive in recent years. It rode the wave of the pandemic by rolling out a first-of-its-kind subscription service, cutting jobs, and closing more than 30 stores.

With inflation ramping up last year, it quickly raised prices and closed its Pret Veggie stores. And with labour shortages affecting the hospitality industry more recently, it has offered competitive pay rises to cling onto staff.

The decision to stop its smoothies in place of iced coffees may seem like a small one. But Pret is, once again, responding to external factors in doing so.

The first concerns economics. And, according to Geoff Riley, who has been teaching economics for 30 years, it represents a classic case of marginal cost.

“[Marginal cost] is the change in total cost from making one extra unit,” he says. “For Pret it is more expensive to provide smoothies with ingredient prices on the rise and it takes time to make them, which increases the unit labour cost.

“Hence long queues of increasingly dissatisfied subscription customers. Pret will replace them with iced drinks using newly-installed machinery, which take less time to make and are cheaper.”

There is also the staff retention factor. Pret baristas have been fairly outspoken in the pressures they feel having to juggle quick service with multiple smoothie orders. “Baristas hate doing smoothies and frappes because they take too long to make,” said one former employee.

But why replace blended drinks rather than simply remove them? This is largely a response to changing consumer preferences.

In September last year, Starbucks said it would be redesigning stores to accommodate for iced drinks, which now make up 70% of sales, and are particularly popular with Gen Z and millennial customers. In the UK, more than 80% of consumers ordered an iced beverage from a branded chain in the last 12 months, according to a 2022 survey.

By expanding on its iced drinks range, Pret is hoping to tap into what has become the most fiercely competed segment of the coffee shop industry. Younger consumers, Gen Z especially, have proved a tricky group to crack, with their demand for convenience and high quality.

However, Pret has cultivated a reputation for its quick, seamless service, making it a strong contender to become a leader in the cold coffee market. Watch this space.