McDonald's Buys Stake In UK Sandwich Retailer

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London-U.S. fast-food giant McDonald's has purchased a 33-percent stake in trendy British sandwich and coffee chain Pret A Manger. The deal would help Pret, popular with office workers for its creative sandwiches and sushi, to expand overseas and aid McDonald's in diversifying away from burgers, which have been tarnished recently by "mad cow" scares.

"Pret A Manger is a strong brand with a loyal customer following that we believe can be successfully developed around the world," said Claire Babrowski, McDonald's vice president.

Some of Pret's customers were less enthusiastic, fearing the chain's range, which includes Tuscan pasta and sandwiches filled with crayfish, could be dragged down in the market.

"It's a tragedy. Pret is about homemade value, and McDonald's is a big corporate machine," said Alex Pitt, a video production director who is a regular Pret customer in central London. "Once he [a member of Pret's staff] starts saying to me, 'Thank you and have a nice day,' I'm out of here."

Andrew Rolfe, Pret A Manger chief executive, said McDonald's would have little influence on the Pret menu, and that the U.S. fast-food group would be essentially providing logistical support.

"They won't have any influence on how we run our food or our shops. We control the brand; we control the business," Rolfe said.

According to Rolfe, McDonald's stake would help Pret A Manger buy real estate, set up distribution chains and provide software support to see the company through its expansion plans. -CNNfn

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