Yesterday, I had the displeasure of meeting someone at Pret-a-Manger, a thriving chain featuring something resembling food – from the 1950′s. I live in New York, which offers an astounding number of food options from McDonald’s to fresh bagels to pizza to Mexican. So I was shocked that this Frankenrestaurant was not a laundromat or a hospice by now. As I negotiated peace with my furious stomach, I came to some surprising conclusions about local marketing…and life.
So what’s my problem with Pret-a-Manger? The food isn’t even remotely fresh. They don’t even try to fake a culinary orgasm. Let’s start by introducing you to their chef: the refrigerator. I call him Fridgy. Fridgy makes every sandwich cold, pre-packaged and hours (months?) in advance from some undisclosed military installation. Prisons…and 7/11…have fresher-looking food. Have you ever bitten into a cold baguette? I hope you have amazing dental work. All the flavors blend into one meta-flavor – cold. The only thing left is texture – hard…soft…mushy…and, ouch!
To add insult to injury, the prices are premium. For the same $13, you could have warm, fresh food. And, you wouldn’t have to fetch your own coffee. A barista at Starbucks would be happy to hand you a sugary delight with a frothy bunny on top – for the same price!
This mystery got my mind racing – how could this place exist when the amazing Chipotle and Cosi sandwich are mere strides away??? Here were my best theories:
- It’s for people who happened to be hobbled by a careening truck right in front of Pret-a-Manger and this is the closest place they could drag their bleeding body to.
- It’s for people who hate France. They’re using a French name to trick you into eating flavorless “French” food, methodically sniping one prospective Francophile tourist at a time. Jacques Cousteau and Inspector Clouseau would be spinning in their fois gras-filled coffins.
- Their food contains rare, precious ingredients like beluga caviar or emeralds.
- It’s part of a bizarre competition where each sandwich might contain a Willy Wonka-like ticket to someday own the factory that puked out these sandwiches. Yum!
- It’s for people with low self esteem who don’t think they deserve warm food or fresh coffee served to them by another human being.
With the culinary arsenal of a bachelor’s New Jersey studio apartment, this place would do better reheating leftover sandwiches from nearby delis. It’s almost like this is a test pilot for the real restaurant. Joke’s on me – I’m out $13 and they’re rolling in beluga. Maybe unfresh is the new fresh and I never got the tweet.
You know who else is not off the hook (so to speak)? Yushi and their horrendous refrigerated sushi. Cold rice? Yeah, pass the wasabi and a bag of dirt I can throw on Iron Chef Morimoto.
So what did I learn?
- Branding, speed, and location are more important than freshness or flavor to many people.
- People aren’t that picky and New York has them in spades.
- Give everything you make a French name, it’ll make it better…at least until we destroy their reputation.
- Low prices aren’t as important as the right price point for your target segment. In this case, upwardly mobile young professionals, skewed female 60%-40%, from what I observed.
- The world is full of thriving mediocrity. What Pret-a-Manger did most successfully is try. Effort is worth more than the greatest ideas in the world. Sure their chicken tastes like it died of embarrassment, but as a business, they are a testament to effort. This should serve as a huge inspiration to others – TRY! Even if you have a competent product, hustling can get you far. So get off your ass and make it happen!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Steve Faktor is founder of IdeaFaktory innovation incubator, author of Econovation, and ex-innovation and strategy executive at American Express, Citi, MasterCard and Andersen. Steve is a popular global keynote speaker and writer for Forbes and Harvard Business Review. He also leads workshops and training based on his 4C’s of Innovation(TM) methodology. Full Bio
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About Steve Faktor
Steve Faktor is founder of IdeaFaktory innovation incubator, author of Econovation, and ex-innovation and strategy executive at American Express, Citi, MasterCard and Andersen. Steve is a popular global keynote speaker and writer for Forbes and Harvard Business Review. He also leads workshops and training based on his 4C's of Innovation(TM) methodology. Full Bio