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Pret a Manger: are you ready to tackle food waste?
Pret a Manger is a chain of take-away food outlets, which sells hot drinks and a range of food, that is ‘ready to eat’ in a translation of the French phrase that gives it its name. It started in 1986 and now has over 350 outlets, and serves 300 000 customers a day.
One of their best-selling lines is sandwiches. The sandwiches for sale at Pret a Manger don’t have use-by dates on them.
English law insists factory-produced long-life sandwiches are plastered with labels containing lots of boring numbers, names, dates and symbols. No label is good. Our food is freshly made and has no labels. Now you know how to spot the difference; boring but important.
This is because they are only ever offered for sale on the day when they are first made. At the end of each day, any food that hasn’t been sold is donated to local homeless charities and drop-in centres. This short interview with Nicki Fisher: the sandwich chain’s head of sustainability, explains why they do this. In London, sandwiches are also distributed to the homeless in an extension of the scheme, which costs the company a significant amount of money.
You may wish to use this short video interview as a resource while teaching this unit.
Food waste is a major issue for all companies. Trade waste disposal is a significant expense, and litter in many city centres can be traced back to fast food outlets.
During this activity, students will be cast in the role of logistics consultants, who have been brought in to consider the following key questions:
- How does the store know how many sandwiches to make, and what quantity of fresh ingredients to order in, so that the waste is reduced to a minimum?
- How can the distribution of the waste food be co-ordinated so as to reduce costs to the company?
Have the following video playing, with the sound turned down low as students enter the classroom. It provides an ‘endless High Street’ and shows scenes from a range of Pret a Manger restaurants.
Write the following question on the whiteboard, or handed out on slips of paper as students enter, as a prompt for discussion:
- Sandwiches made for sale should have a use-by-date on them, but those sold in Pret a Manger don’t. Why not?
Discuss the statement
Explain the background to the activity, and why Pret a Manger sandwiches don’t have a date on them. Explain that a sandwich would be an example of a perishable product. This is one that has a limited life span, or whose value is significantly reduced (perhaps to zero) if it is not sold within a particular period of time. The actual period of time involved is variable. These are also time-sensitive products.
Ask students to suggest some examples of perishable box some examples of perishable products that must be used on the day they are produced if they are to have their maximum value.
Here are some suggestions:
- Concert tickets
- Train tickets for specific journeys
- French bread
These products require additional efforts to ensure they are delivered promptly to maximise the potential for sales. This adds additional logistical pressure, with time-sensitive and temperature-sensitive products.
Food products are subject to additional legislation regarding hygiene and storage.
What decisions are made within a company to reduce food waste?
Students are asked to produce a piece of writing for the journal of the British Sandwich Association on the theme above.
Explore the sustainability policies of a number of food companies in the UK here.
There was recent criticism of a supermarket that prosecuted people who were taking food from bins at the end of the day.
Students could be given the Sandwich writing frame (PPT) to help them construct their writing. This is based on the popular burger essay writing diagram.
They should consider the importance of logistics in this piece of writing. How do the decisions on the ordering of ingredients, positioning of restaurants (both in terms of which towns to locate in, and whereabouts within the town)
What happens to waste food that is generated by your school’s dining hall? Why not speak to your school’s catering manager. When and from where is the food delivered that they use? How many local food suppliers do they use?
Can you develop some ideas for how to (further) reduce the food waste that is generated, and ensure that it is disposed of in an (even more) environmentally friendly way?
Students should be given a copy of the Sandwich net (PDF) – ideally this should be printed onto thin card so that when it is cut out the final product is a little more robust
Download: Sandwich net (PDF)
Their challenge is to produce a sandwich box with contents, which explains the important decisions which need to be made each day.
These could then be displayed on a shelf as a display which tells the story of this particular
This activity is based on the idea of the landscape in a box, which has been adapted by many teachers. It was produced by Alan Parkinson.
Download: Landscape in a Box – Teaching Geography article from 2009 (PDF)
Identify the location of your nearest Pret a Manger shop here.
Explore what is meant by the term ‘freeganism’. What options are there for this in the town where you live?
Goad city centre plans are available from Experian UK. They show the layout of each retail location and provide further information. They are available as a hard copy, PDF, or suitable for opening up within a GIS package such as ArcGIS Online. A list of the available plans and more information is available here.
References and further resources
The following YouTube video of an interview with Pret a Manger’s Sustainability manager provides a useful background to the company’s policy:
More relevant links include:
British Sandwich Week is in May each year.