THE
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Train Strikes Hurt Sandwich Sales as Millions Stay Home

The UK’s worst rail strike in three decades hit Pret A Manger Ltd. hard with activity in London’s financial and shopping districts and train stations falling sharply as workers and shoppers stayed home.

Sales of coffee, soup and sandwiches in the City and Canary Wharf were at 62% of pre-Covid-19 levels through Thursday, according to the latest figures tracked by Bloomberg’s Pret Index. This is the lowest level since April and down from the prior week, when sales hit 88% of pre-pandemic levels.

It was a similar story in London’s West End and train stations nationwide, where activity, which had topped pre-pandemic levels the prior week, fell abruptly as people stayed home and avoided the transport disruption.

Almost half of City of London workers weren’t at their desks on June 21 when train and tube drivers went on strike, according to data compiled by Google, which tracks the movements of some of its users.

The threat of industrial action spreading across Britain and falling consumer confidence is leading analysts to warn that the country could be facing a recession. Railway workers walked off the job last week over concerns about their living standards slipping, and criminal barristers are striking Monday. Postal workers, teachers and doctors may be next.

In New York there were no rail strikes but a shorter week due to the Juneteenth holiday may help explain why activity on Wall Street dropped to less than half of pre-Covid levels at Pret stores.

Bloomberg is monitoring Pret’s transactions each week for the latest in this glimpse at the pandemic recovery. Click here for details on the methodology.

Pret coffee

Transactions fell below pre-pandemic levels in the West End arts, entertainment and shopping districts, hit by train strikes and the  warmer weather which kept people away.

Pret’s business in London’s airport terminals climbed again and is now well over a third higher than it was before the crisis, despite continued chaos brought on by recent flight cancellations and delays.

Sales in the cluster that includes Wall Street and Tribeca are stubbornly refusing to recover, and fell last week, even though the latest Covid peak has been declared over by New York City Mayor Eric Adams.

Transactions in New York’s Midtown entertainment and business district did not fare much better last week with sales slipping from nearly two-thirds of pre-Covid sales to just over half.

Pret’s business in Paris is still hovering at a pandemic high and just shy of normal.

Pret wrap sandwich

London’s suburban areas were a bright spot last week as sales remained nearly a quarter above pre-pandemic levels. Stores in these areas are benefitting from hybrid working arrangements, particularly last week when many employees chose to avoid transport problems by staying home.

Pret’s transactions in London train stations, which had been back to normal, dropped significantly to just 78% of pre-Covid levels as a result of train strikes.

Transactions in Hong Kong stayed steady as the city continues to recover after being heavily impacted by a surge in infections during the spring.

Pret sandwich

As people look for signs that the world is getting back to normal, Pret is providing weekly data to Bloomberg about its sales across major business hubs on an exclusive basis. The figures give a global perspective on whether demand for breakfast and lunch items is returning to shopping centers, financial districts and airports.

The Pret Index is calculated against a baseline from January 2020, before the pandemic upended the cities tracked, and compares transaction data starting from March 8 against the average from that month. Every point (.01) on the index represents 1% progress toward returning to those January 2020 levels.

Sandwich sales are an imperfect measure, but the figures compiled by Pret provide at least one real-time gauge of the cities’ recovery.