Since I have been at university, I have loved coffee, and going to Pret a Manger has been a convenient option. In central London alone there are more than 100 Pret’s, and since they introduced a “Coffee subscription” for £20 a month which entitles you to unlimited drinks, I have noticed the sheer number of people who are making use of this subscription, including myself. I decided it was time to investigate their sustainability claims and decide whether it is worth still buying their coffee. Overall, for such a well-recognized coffee and sandwich chain, I expected to find more information on their website. I struggled to find available information about their supply chain, therefore if Pret were more transparent they could have scored higher. Since their coffee is organic, I recommend consumers to keep opting for organic coffee options where possible and bring a reusable cup to their shops.
Pret’s core value is to “do the right thing”, and their website claims that they take sustainability as a very important issue. Pret uses certified organic Arabica coffee from Peru, Honduras, Ethiopia, and Sumatra, which was grown with sustainable farming practices. The organic certification ensures that Pret’s ingredients are grown or produced more sustainably than other non-organic brands. Their coffee also includes organic milk, or organic milk alternatives, such as soy, oat, or almond. Their choice of organic ingredients highlights their commitment to sustainability in their supply chain. Consumers can enjoy their coffee knowing the beans were grown sustainably.
In 2018, they introduced their Global Plastic Pledge initiative, where customers can receive a 50p discount if they bring their own reusable cup. Pret has shown that they are willing to cut their profits to promote this initiative and help our environment. I was unable to find what materials their disposable coffee cups were made of, however, their shops do include their own recycling scheme for lids and paper cups. With many of their shops operating as a takeaway only during the pandemic, I have noticed the recycling initiative in their shops is not taking place, and therefore many of their cups are not being recycled in the correct manner. The film inside their paper cups does not make them recyclable, therefore currently, their coffee cups are contributing to landfill and plastic waste.
Furthermore, their switch to paper straws, without changing the cups, does not solve the problem of single-use plastic. Rather, the paper straw is an attempt to make Pret look sustainable. They are working towards finding an “innovative solution” for their coffee cups, however I’m aware this is a shared problem across all coffee chains that use to-go cups. The UK, much like the US, has a very strong culture of grabbing food and coffee-to-go. Ultimately, to reduce and solve packaging issues we could go back in time, rather than finding an innovative solution that is unlikely to be immediate. For example, in Italy, it is very rare to see disposable coffee cups, since they have a strong culture of drinking an espresso “at the bar”. This could be difficult to adopt in London where lifestyles are very different, however, it could be one of their solutions. Overall, there also has to be a greater incentive by the consumer to bring their own cup, as only 9% of all coffee purchases in Pret are done with a reusable cup.
Pret’s coffee beans are farmed in Peru, Honduras, Ethiopia, and Sumatra. Pret take’s great pride in its organic certification, and bases the majority of its brand advertising on this. All their shops and kitchens are run with renewable energy (wind, solar, hydroelectric). I felt as if Pret were very quick to label themselves as ‘sustainable’ on the website, but have failed to provide sufficient information beyond the fact that they source organic coffee beans made from sustainable farming practices. They have not mentioned what farming practices these include, or their farmer’s labor conditions. The coffee is made fresh in-store, using ‘La Cimbali Dolce Vita’ coffee machine (ranging from £1500-£3000 per machine). The coffee machine grinds the beans. Water is heated and added to the freshly ground beans. The coffee is then added to a cup of frothed milk. The machines are likely to have high electricity usage, especially as they are in operation the majority of the day. The machines are thus likely to contribute to a high carbon footprint due to their high energy consumption. The freshwater needed to make the coffee is also a point that must be considered.
Pret a Manger is a coffee shop that was originally based in London. By now, it has expanded internationally, with shops across France, Hong Kong, and the United States. Pret have taken many gestures to improve their sustainability, for example by introducing paper straws, and tackling social welfare issues. Whilst paper straws appear to be a step in the right direction, the most ideal solution would be eliminating straws entirely or having reusable straws. They have a very strong aim to alleviate poverty, hunger, and homelessness. They have donated over £2 million to support local charities that help homeless people, 6 million leftover food items to the homeless, and food banks in 2019 alone and they joined the B4IG to tackle inequality and promote diversity in their workplace and supply chain. Every year, they offer 40 people jobs on the Rising Stars program, as they believe employment is part of the solution to homelessness. They provide accommodation, food, and travel costs for this program as well.