Forget Brexit or Remain: the real marker of British society is your favoured lunch spot. This week, Greggs posted a 15 per cent increase in sales last quarter, despite putting up its prices. In recent years, the chain has gone from strength to strength thanks to successful new products (vegan sausage roll anyone?), consolidating key strengths and canny marketing stunts.
Meanwhile, Pret a Manger is weathering the storm. While Greggs is honest and rugged, Pret is effete and pretentious. In Game of Thrones terms, Pret is the Lannisters (southern and fancy), while Greggs is the honest, northern Starks. Like the Starks, Greggs has come unstuck in the capital. London is one of the few places where the chain has not triumphed.
So which is the best? Enlisting a crack team of The Daily Telegraph food writers, we compared the two propositions. There can only be one king. When you play the game of Greggs vs Pret, you win or you diet.
I’m not getting into the blends and all that robusta vs arabica business. De gustibus. Both shops buy and grind their beans. What I will say is that Pret, which employs baristas who manually froth the milk for the drinks, ought to serve a better flat white than Greggs, where the drinks come from a machine. But as at so many high-street coffee shops, the Pret flat white is simply a small latte. What’s the point? The Pret version is £3.25, Greggs is £1.90.
Greggs’ flagship item is its sausage roll, a cylinder of seasoned meat encased in flaky golden pastry. Pret’s is less obvious but we decided it was the jambon-beurre, a mini baguette thickly lined with butter and filled with ham and cornichons. Fundamentally, both are expressions of pork in dough. Our panel agreed that both succeed on their own terms, but Pret’s just lost out for underbaked bread. The baguette also has 354 calories while the sausage roll clocks in at 328.
Chicken and bacon
Pret’s club sandwich was “quite mayoey”, which is a “general issue with Pret sandwiches”, but thanks to its “superior greenery and seasoning”, it beat Greggs’ baguette equivalent, which was let down by being slightly too sweet with an underbaked baguette.
Veggie non-sandwich option
Greggs’ cheese and onion bake went up against the Pret meatless meatball sub. “A meatless meatball is just a ball, in a sense,” said one of the panel, who preferred the bake. “The bake is just a more honest meal,” agreed another.
Cheesy meaty hot item
Pret’s popular Reuben toastie vs Greggs pepperoni pizza slice. A rout. “The pizza is actively unpleasant,” said one. “It’s so sugary I feel sick.” Another praised it for tasting “a bit like the pizza left over after kids’ parties”. The Reuben, by comparison, won plaudits for its tangy sauerkraut and combination of flavours.
Spicy chicken wraps
Greggs’ Mexican wrap was “generously filled” although let down again by a “sweet” sauce. Pret’s was flavoured with sriracha, the “chilli sauce du jour”, but won points for a good amount of salad, which spoke to Pret’s “general superiority on greenery”.
Pret’s hummus and falafel mezze “actually tasted of something”. The Greggs sweet potato bhaji and rice was “really very bad”. It is a rare Greggs dish that has quinoa, and was only introduced in June. To judge by the panel’s unanimous disgust, it should be unintroduced.
Although Greggs sprinkle-covered “star biscuit” won points for its children’s party aesthetic, Pret’s blonde chocolate and pecan cookie won for being “obviously better”, although it ought to be, at £2.20 vs the 95p Greggs version.
The closest like for like comparison on our list. Our panel awarded this to Pret on grounds of superior “lubricant” mayonnaise and better bread, while the Greggs filling was “more like cat food” and had “fish paste vibes.” But Greggs cost £2; Pret £3.40.
At Greggs on north London’s Seven Sisters Road I was served quickly and efficiently by a pleasant young woman who put my things in a large paper bag. At Pret by London’s Victoria Station I was served slowly and inefficiently by a man (wearing a baseball cap), who only had three small paper bags, which meant I had to use some of my non-carrying fingers. The other staff were also throwing things at each other and generally carrying on in an unprofessional manner.
Unit for unit Pret is probably healthier than Greggs, but not by nearly as much as you would think. If you are having a ham and cheese baguette, you are having a ham and cheese baguette. For a high street coffee, Greggs is better, and its sausage roll is hard to beat. But its sandwiches are less tasty. Given the economic situation, Pret is better, but is it twice as good? Debatable.