Two cups of fresh coffee, surrounded by coffee beans on a dark background

UK Coffee Company Gets in Hot Water After 5K Complaints Received

ASA steps in to tell Pret A Manger their ads are misleading

Pret A Manger, a UK-based coffee company, has gotten itself in hot water with subscribers and the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). Pret A Manger’s coffee subscription service offers five barista-made drinks daily (organic hot and iced coffee, Cold Brew, tea, frappe, hot chocolate and smoothies, including any milk alternatives, syrups and extra shots) for £20 a month, after one month free. Some smoothies are specifically excluded, including Cocoa, Almond Butter and Banana Smoothies, Raspberry, Mango and Ginger Smoothies, and Avocado, Mango and Ginger Smoothies.

“If our Baristas brew it, blend it or steam it, you can have it,” says Pret on its subscription page.

Image courtesy of Pret A Manger

However, subscribers have complained they are often unable to get the promised drinks at some of the company’s 400 UK-based shops, especially smoothies. According to the BBC, the popular coffee chain has received 5,000 complaints. Some subscribers took their complaints to social media.

In the company’s terms and conditions which were last updated November 29, 2021, Pret notes subscriptions can be redeemed at any of the company’s participating shops for up to five eligible products per day, subject to the shop’s hours and availability of eligible products. There are only five nonparticipating shops: Souths Mimms Services (Welcome Break), Cherwell Valley Services (Moto), Rugby (Moto), Victoria Road (Motor Fuel Group) and Southgate (Motor Fuel Group).

ASA gets involved

Image courtesy of Pret A Manger

After receiving several consumer complaints, the ASA stepped in, sending an “advice notice” to Pret to warn them to review their ads to ensure they weren’t misrepresenting their subscription service, says The Guardian.

“We noted that their ads should not state or imply that the service was available in all store locations, or that it covers their entire range of products if that wasn’t the case,” the ASA said.

The BBC reports that Pret responded to the ASA: “We have spoken with the ASA to ensure all Pret marketing for the coffee subscription is in accordance with their latest guidance.”

One of the problems seems to be the extra work the subscription service has caused employees. The BBC quotes several sources who said employees would sometimes turn off the blending machines, because it takes a minute and a half to make one smoothie. In other cases, employees said the machines were broken, being cleaned or there was a supply chain issue. Several Twitter users voiced their thoughts.

Pret in the U.S.

Pret A Manger is available in select US markets including Philadelphia and New York City. While the UK shops only offer one subscription plan, the US shops have two plans: classic and premium.

Image courtesy of Pret A Manger

Insider Take

The bottom line is that subscribers should get what they pay for and subscription companies should be transparent (and realistic) about what they offer. If a company’s staff does not have the time, equipment or wherewithal to carry out a company’s subscription promise, then there is something wrong, whether it is a staffing issue or an unrealistic expectation on the part of the company. Subscribers are right to complain when they aren’t getting value for their subscription dollar, and bravo to ASA for stepping in. We hope this will be a lesson to other subscription companies that setting realistic expectations and testing how subscriptions actually work are critical before rolling out an “unlimited” plan like this one.

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