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McDonald's Buys Stake In UK Sandwich Retailer <b></b>

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London-U.S. fast-food giant McDonald's has purchaseda 33-percent stake in trendy British sandwich and coffee chain PretA Manger. The deal would help Pret, popular with office workers forits creative sandwiches and sushi, to expand overseas and aidMcDonald's in diversifying away from burgers, which have beentarnished recently by "mad cow" scares.

"Pret A Manger is a strong brand with a loyal customerfollowing that we believe can be successfully developed around theworld," said Claire Babrowski, McDonald's vicepresident.

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

"It's a tragedy. Pret is about homemade value, andMcDonald's is a big corporate machine," said Alex Pitt, avideo production director who is a regular Pret customer in centralLondon. "Once he [a member of Pret's staff] starts sayingto me, 'Thank you and have a nice day,' I'm out ofhere."

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

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

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

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