I worked in Pret A Manger when two customers died, and I cannot get over not having known. I would have struggled. I would have resigned. I don’t know what I’d done. But not business as usual!
Not once was I or my team informed of it.
I was a Team Leader, a mini-manager, doing the ordering, waste management, looking after the team, health & safety, money handling, cashing up, stock-take, customer service … But there wasn’t even as much as a HINT that two customers have died within two years from allergens hidden in Pret products!
We weren’t even urged or hinted that we needed to be more diligent with the labelling or allergen information.
Nothing! Absolutely nothing! Pret kept it well hidden from us.
As the news keep highlighting that Natasha’s Law is getting close to becoming reality, I remember again after having posted this blog entry, that when I worked as a team leader I often checked incoming emails in the office as most communication between shops and from HQ are done via emails.
One such mail came in at times from the UK Managing Director Pano Christou who has now been promoted to COO, a position which didn’t exist in Pret until JAB took over, and who keeps a low profile. When I was in the office doing cashing up, or the ordering, or whatever I had to do as part of my leadership duties, and everytime this type of email came in my heart stopped and then pounced in a panic. The subject of the mail and the first lines read something like, “It is with great sadness that we have to bring the news …”
I received the news of my brother’s death via an ice cold, short and to the point email. In that one email I not only was informed that my brother was found dead five weeks prior to this email, but that he was cremated and completely gone! The efficient German police that has mandatory ID system for all citizens with my mum living at the same address for over 30 years claimed that next of kin could not be found … I write about this in various blog entries. But not only did this immense shock thrust me into an extreme traumatic time, but to be receiving this news via email has spiraled me into unprecedented emailing months and years later, of which I am just now recovering from.
So, these emails coming in from HQ with sad news had me fall into a terrible panic.
The email from HQ continued along those lines: “It is with great sadness that we have to bring the news that our shop in such-and-such a city/street will be closed permanently on such-and-such a date.”
Excuse me, what???!!!!!
My heart still pouncing, tangibly feeling blood leaving my head in the next shock that this type of wording in these emails was about a freaking shop closure?!?!?!?!!!
Of course I was relieved that this was NOT an announcement of someone from HQ or a shop having died! And I had to press against my chest for my heart to calm down again hoping my team wouldn’t call me out for customer service, as I was shaking still! But my point here is, that NOT ONE time came a message, be it via email, phone, via the weekly info/news sheet from HQ, not in Team Briefs in the shops, no extra emergency meetings, not in private from our managers… NOT ONE announcement that not just one, but TWO customers have died from Pret products! It was more important for Pret to announce in such a dramatic way that a flipping shop is closing down for whatever reason. As if anyone in the shops cared about Pret losing money from their millions, still opening on every corner constantly, while staff are underpaid, overworked, over stressed …
I get it that team members who come to work, stand at the tills, prepare sandwiches, stock up and go home without having leadership responsibilities may have not been informed. But I was a Team Leader, with the main responsibilities of Health & Safety, Customer Service, Team Engagement, Training etc. But Health & Safety (for customers and staff alike!) was the top priority in my job description! And I took that part very serious, often to the annoyance of my colleagues where I would stop them, even if they were behind their tasks, stopping them if they were working in an unsafe way for example, or the fire exits were blocked and staff rushing around, I made it priority to always have safety first and then anything else, no matter how busy is was etc.
So, these HQ emails about shop closures as if someone died first of all had me angry as my email experience of my brother’s death just hit me again and again when these emails came in. But now it’s even more appalling as Pret did not see the need to inform ALL staff, and most of all not changing and acting in URGENCY on these labelling and allergen issues until this became public and people started boycotting! This still has me shake my head in disbelief and shock, and yet knowing Pret, their procrastination and negligence is not surprising! I cannot even begin to imagine what the families go through!!
If Pret would have decided not to inform us, but still immediately implemented the labelling, that would have been a different matter. They could have held meetings with all leaders to communicate that Pret would be bringing in an allergen labelling system for all products. They wouldn’t have even needed to lie and could have told us that because several customers complained about the lack of labelling which they did before and even after the deaths, Pret could have said they decided it’s time to label all products, no matter what the law says.
But nothing! Absolutely nothing!
In 2017 Pret even hired the prestigious and expensive London Barbican Centre to do several days of training for leaders on customer service (basically how to kiss customers’ butts for more money!). Yet, this instead could have been training days for leaders on allergen and implementing labelling! But no, nothing!
And thus, Pret’s claim to be doing the right thing, with their HR department taking this claim to more lofty heights by saying to be doing the right thing “naturally”, has my stomach turn even now, no matter how much I know Pret’s mentality, and I shouldn’t be surprised, but I’m still gobsmacked!
And one of the main things I’ve learned from my Pret experience is, the louder someone or an organization claims something, the less this is actually happening because it’s like holding up a banner of words as the reality behind it is very, very different. It’s like putting on a lot of make-up to cover up the true face. And this is where Pret is extreme, all their slogans and bull-crap words are just a facade to cover up what’s behind it. I know, I’ve worked in it for years and survived.
The only allergen labelling that was implemented in around 2015 or 2016 was for charity. I cannot remember exactly when this started, but the thought behind that I understand only now, because we were never told the reason. The reason being that charity, homeless people most likely won’t have access to the Internet to check the ingredients and as they receive the food after closing time not being able to get into a shop to ask for allergen information.
But there is a contradicting twist in all this. In 2017 Pret started implementing a food labelling system in all Pret kitchens for the ingredients in the fridges that were opened and needed a product label with the new expiry date, once the item has been opened.
Before that, hand-written labels were used. So, for example if a tub of crayfish has a use-by-date (UBD) of let’s say 4 days from today while closed, the UBD changes to let’s 2 days once the tub was opened. Because many Team Members made mistakes as they are constantly rushing, writing the wrong UBD where the product then expired because they put a day longer, these labelling machines were implemented, where a Team Member just types in the product, the original UBD while unopened, and then the machine with all the ingredients programmed into it, calculates and prints out the correct UBD for the now opened product.
Pret was willing and able to do that for kitchen ingredients, and yet, nothing for customers to make informed decisions if or what to purchase to safe lives. These kitchen machines were implemented in 2017!!
Machines for UBD product labels to me is not a priority as TMs could still continue to handwrite the labels as they did for years. But a labelling system for products on the shelves just didn’t seem a priority for Pret.
I am tired of trying to tell the public how utterly non-caring Pret A Manger is.
Also in 2016 which no one in the UK media seemed to have noticed nor researched a man in New York sued Pret quote: “after he a went into anaphylactic shock. He alleges that the restaurant staff served him food containing sesame after assuring him the food was free of the allergen.”
The Verdict (he lost!)
I tweeted about this HERE and mention that from the witness account in the verdict document the supplier of the wrap that contains sesame did NOT need to include sesame in the ingredient as in the U.S. it isn’t law, but in Canada it has to be included. So, the supplier acted responsibly and added it anyway even though by law he did NOT need to, but he included it in case the product was purchased from outside the USA, like Canada for example. Yet, Pret could not be bothered and after this lawsuit and then even after Natasha’s death still did NOTHING!
Witness statement from the supplier from the verdict document, Page 5 (FDA = Food and Drugs Administration):
“We list and perhaps by FDA regulations, we are asked to list or call out any of the ingredients that could be classified as an allergin [sic]. Wheat and soy are classified as allergins in the U.S. In Canada sesame would be included as we really don’t know wh~re stores are, so we put what might be outside this country or at least the border country.”
So, the supplier has sesame included, even though by U.S. law he didn’t need to. And Pret did not list, even though they had the info from the supplier ingredient list on the product.
Sweet-talk of the decade:
If people want to enjoy their free coffees from Pret and continue to be lulled in by the shiny PR[et] facade, then go and enjoy!
The families know 100% loss all of the time.
Tanya Ednan-Laperouse: “A young person died from eating one of their products and the fact that they did nothing, and just let things carry on exactly as they had before, is beyond believe, actually!”
Nadim Ednan-Laperouse: “It’s kind of madness, isn’t it? Really, if you think about it? What is it? It’s just nothing short of a kind of mad situation.”
I worked at Pret A Manger for almost 10 years and survived systemic workplace bullying during bereavement that involved HR, the top leadership, HQ and even the CEO Clive Schlee. For an overview of important blog entries of my experience with Pret, please visit “My Ordeal with Pret A Manger”. The little arrow to the right next to each heading will lead directly to the post.
I also tell my story for the first time verbally in this >>> podcast interview based in California, and wrote a recent article in the Scottish Left Review.
Thank you for reading/listening.
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