Pret a Manger consult on disposable cups

Keith Parkins
Dec 8, 2017 · 5 min read
Pret a Manger Guildford

Pret a Manger is not somewhere I would go for a coffee, I prefer to go to an indie coffee shop, not a corporate chain, once part owned by McDonald’s, now majority owned by Vulture Capitalists.

But, they are looking at how to reduce the number of disposable cups going to waste, which is a welcome move, and maybe something we can all learn from.

As I was passing by Pret a Manger in Guildford, I popped in to see what information on disposable cups. It was like walking into a McDonald’s without the stomach churning stench. No atmosphere. No information on recycling or disposable cups, no re-use cups on sale. I did though see displayed 25p discount if bring own cup.

I spoke with mananger. She knew nothing, She said it was head office, she only worked there. She did though confirm the takeaway cups they currently use cannot be recycled.

Pret a Manger Chief executive Clive Schlee has consulted on twitter, ideas on how to reduce the number of disposable cups.

Last week I tweeted that Pret was considering increasing its discount from 25p to 50p for any customer bringing a reusable cup. We are thinking of doing this to help change habits. It’s well known that “reduce” is better than “recycle.

I was inundated with suggestions, ideas and feedback. All of them were constructive and the vast majority were supportive.

So far so good, but why nothing in-store, also look at best practice.

Best practise tells you what is being achieved, what works, seeking suggestions, maybe tells you what customers are willing to agree to.

A summary of the response to the twitter consultation:

  1. 96% of the 5,000 respondents on an Instagram Stories poll voted “yes” to the 50p idea.
  2. A great many customers recommended that we sell a branded reusable cup as well as launching the new discount. Many shared views on what makes a good reusable cup — light, leak proof and elegant are key attributes.
  3. Lots of you suggested we turn the discount on its head and charge for cups instead. The economic theory of loss aversion was mentioned — this says that people respond to loss or fear of a penalty much more than they do to a reward or discount. The success of the government’s 5p bag charge was cited as evidence of how effective this can be.
  4. A handful of people pointed out that china cups ought to be available in more of our shops.
  5. It was suggested that we set up a loyalty scheme tied to reusable cups. Some wanted us to implant chips into the cups themselves that could measure usage and automatically apply a discount.

In the near future, taking on board the comments, Pret propose:

  1. Launch the 50p discount in the first week of 2018.
  2. Source a well-designed reusable cup, ready to launch later in 2018.
  3. Explore adding china cups to more of our shops with seats.

The idea of sticking a chip in a cup is bonkers, invasion of privacy.

I am surprised Pret lacks a loyalty scheme or that it is not the norm to have ceramic cups or that they lack reusable cups on sale.

In practice, big discounts on coffee have few takers, though yes, everyone is going to ask for a discount. And it would have to be coupled with sale of resusable cups, for example KeepCup.

The disadvantage with reusable cups is that have to be carted around. The plastic KeepCup, light, relatively cheap, but plastic, the glass KeepCup heavy, expensive, breaks when dropped.

KeepCup only comes into its own when popping out of the office for a coffee.

Compostable paper cups do not merit a mention. If I am on my way home, can pop on the compost heap, if not, what do I do with it? And that is the dilemma, it would go in a waste bin.

The idea of charging for a takeaway cup has been rejected.

We debated whether charging people for using paper cups felt right. We decided that it goes against our instincts as we would prefer to be generous to our customers than to tax them. Let’s see what impact the new discount has…

Charging for the takeaway cup should not be rejected out of hand. Why not charge more for takeway coffee?

Both ideas have been tried in practice, and they work.

Ultimately we must challenge the takeaway culture, difficult for Pret a Manger as that is what their businesses model is built on.

Instead of grab a sandwich and a drink, run down the street or eat and drink on the hoof, have welcoming places, where you may wish to sit and relax with a coffee, chat with friends.

Or dare I say it, relax with a coffee in an indie coffee shop.

Filter coffee at 49p a cup, what does that say of the quality?

I would far rather pay for a single origin coffee, served as a V60 or Chemex, direct trade, traceabilty and transparency to origin, served by a skilled barista, where I can relax in a pleasant ambience, local art on the walls, than a 49p filter coffee not freshly made, surrounded by bullshit posters on the wall.

In the absence of in-store information, in-store sale of reusable cups, it is difficult to see this as anything more than a clever PR stunt than a genuine attempt to reduce the use of disposable cups.

Cups, 2.5 billion disposable cups a year, are not the only waste generated by coffee chains. What of the food waste, what of the coffee grounds?

To their credit, Pret a Manager supply their left over food to homeless people.

More should follow their example. It is so annoying to see left over cakes, pastries and sandwiches binned. Why not give to customers, what is left, give to the homeless.

Surrey Hills Coffee coffee grounds outside coffee shop for gardeners to take away

Coffee grounds can be put out for collection by gardeners, turned into furniture, turned into coffee cups, jewellery, used to grow oyster mushrooms.

The Little Bicycle Coffee Shop

Musings on all things coffee and occasionally tea

Keith Parkins

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Writer, thinker, deep ecologist, social commentator, activist, enjoys music, literature and good food.

The Little Bicycle Coffee Shop

Musings on all things coffee and occasionally tea