Pret out to grab a bigger piece of the action

UPMARKET sandwich shop chain Pret A Manger has unveiled plans to create 300 jobs and open a record number of stores after posting double-digit like-for-like sales growth in the first three months of the year.

Chief executive Clive Schlee said the company would open a further 33 stores this year.

It has already grown to encompass 232 outlets in the UK, United States and Hong Kong, but Schlee believed there was room for a further 200 outlets in the UK.

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Total sales in the year to 31 December hit 279.2 million, up from 249.6m in 2008, with like-for-like sales ahead by 2.6 per cent. Earnings rose by 11 per cent to 33.6m.

But Schlee sounded a note of caution on the global economy, pledging that the company would "continue to innovate" and keep products "affordable".

A spokesman for the firm – launched in London in 1986 by college friends Julian Metcalfe and Sinclair Beecham – added it planned to expand its Scottish reach beyond Edinburgh and Glasgow. It already has three stores in each city.

Schlee said: "Pret sales grew sharply in the second half of 2009, with a particularly strong performance from our London heartland. We opened 16 shops around the world, stepping up our planned expansion in the US where we now have 23 shops in New York. We have also opened our first shop in Washington."

He went on: "We will take advantage of more favourable property markets to increase our investment in new shop construction and plan to open a record number of new shops in 2010."

The company was the subject of a management buy-out in February 2008, under which European private equity firm Bridgepoint acquired a majority stake.

Although Pret A Manger has been linked with a possible flotation, Schlee said yesterday that 2011 sounded "very early" as a date for a potential stock market listing.