Our Love of a Lunchtime Sandwich Is Back

Written by: Susannah Streeter | Hargreaves Lansdown

Town centre sandwich shops had their stuffing knocked out of them during the pandemic, when daily customers disappeared overnight as entire workforces shifted to home. But it seems our love of the lunchtime snack is back, with transactions beating pre-pandemic levels in some areas.

If transactions at Pret a Manger are a measure of consumer habits, sales have snapped back in the North of England and the suburbs at a much more rapid rate than in Scotland and in the city of London.

The Office for National Statistics has used the sandwich chain as a barometer in its latest survey looking at economic indicators and social change in the UK.

Transactions soared in Yorkshire in particular during the week ending 7th October, at 142% of their weekly level compared to January 2020 and in Manchester purchases were also up at 113% compared to pre-pandemic levels. Suburban areas around London were particularly strong, with transactions at 128% of weekly levels in January 2020. But in London City they languished around 82% of pre-crisis levels and in Scotland transactions were still at 93% of levels seen in January 2020. Although it is has grown a little, business across the transport network is still depressed, with transactions at London airports still at 75% of January 2020 levels. These trends show why Pret’s future expansion will be focused on suburban and regional areas, rather than on the urban street corners the chain first popped up on. 

This sales snapshot showing consumer demand bouncing back in many pockets across the UK is also backed up in the latest overall footfall numbers. Overall retail footfall has increased to 87% of the level seen in 2019 and there is more relief for businesses based on high streets with footfall rising 7% week on week.

After so many months with little option but to rustle up meals at home, it’s clear consumers now have a much stronger appetite for eating out than before the pandemic. The seven day average estimate of UK seated diners in the week to 11 October 2021 was 119% of the level in the equivalent week of 2019. 

But with labour shortages hitting restaurants, cafes and sandwich bars, it’s not clear if the industry will be able to keep up with our insatiable demand for dining out.

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