Private equity to get a slice of Pret a Manger?

Pret is apparently on the verge of a private-equity sale. About time: it's been ready to eat for ages.

Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

According to reports, private-equity firm Bridgepoint is in advanced talks to buy a sizeable stake in the sandwich chain - possibly the 33% owned by fast food chain McDonalds. The deal, which could value Pret at £300m-£350m, follows a protracted sale process – an auction that some participants have intriguingly described as ‘bizarre’. Quite what this entails, we're not sure.

Pret was formed in 1985 by two graduates, and soon became the darling of busy young professionals thanks to its open and casual way of communicating with its customers – putting the bosses’ phone numbers on the sandwich packets, for example – and its fresh and healthy take-away food. Just don’t mention the generous portions of mayo and high salt levels. Or the big stake sold to McDonald’s – hardly the brightest name on the menu for the average fan of upmarket eating. Now McDonald’s could sell up if the Bridgepoint deal goes through.

However, co-founders Julian Metcalfe and Sinclair Beecham (who own the remainder of the company alongside a mystery US-based businessman) may not be too chuffed with how things have panned out. Last year they valued the company at more than £400m, and have since ditched a previous plan to list in the hope of raising more cash through a private-equity sale.

The sale’s problems are perhaps linked to the unconventional hands-on methods of the entrepreneurial co-founders. The company may struggle to maintain its unique offering if their personal involvement wanes. And beyond that, the market is hardly right for a big-money sale: Pret’s predominantly urban locations have prompted suggestions it may be vulnerable given the country's current financial woes.

Indeed, with the threat of recession looming, some potential suitors have clearly decided that they'd have to be a few slices short of a loaf to blow a load of money on a high-street food outlet...

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