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Pret a Manger now offers plant-based milks at no extra charge. Will others follow?

Pret, which previously charged 40p per portion is now offering plant-based milks, such as soy, oat and rice-coconut, at no additional charge, though it has raised the price of hot drinks between 5p and 20p to part cover the cost.

In all, Pret has 450 outlets in the United Kingdom, the United States, Hong Kong, and across Europe. Pret’s vegan milk announcement came as part of a push to offer more vegetarian offerings, as well as vegan options in its Veggie Pret outlets (in the UK). In global scale terms Pret (which is owned by food giant JAB Holdings) is tiny compared with other large coffee chains. For example, Starbucks has over 28000 outlets worldwide. But it does raise the question that if Pret can offer plant-based milks at no additional charge, will consumers see that from other big brand names?

It’s not difficult to see how Pret arrived at this decision. From an environmental and ethical point of view it is some way ahead of its key competition, driven by its customer demographics – a high proportion of which care deeply about these issues.

People for The Ethical Treatment of Animals, the advocacy group known as PETA, and many other organisations aligned with the plant-based cause have been calling the surcharge on plant based milks a “vegan tax” and has pushed Starbucks in particular to drop it. Lately, PETA members have staged sit ins at a number of locations across the U.S., lobbying for the extra charge to be removed.

However, as Pret and independent coffee bars make alternative milks available at no price difference, the bigger players may feel that they have to match them, just as they have done in the past when consumers requested the listing of plant-based milks.

According to a study released last summer by the Good Food Institute and Plant-Based Foods Association, demand for plant-based milk now equals 13 percent of total retail milk sales. That is up 6 percent from 2018. In that same period, demand for dairy milk fell by 3 percent.

So, while consumers used to be happy just to find plant-based milks on their coffee bar menus, now they may demand them at the same price they pay for cow’s milk.

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