London-based restaurant chain Pret-A-Manger first entered the American market in 2000 with a location in New York City. For the most part, they've had a seamless transition to the ways of the states. American customers have enjoyed their fast service and fresh-tasting salads and sandwiches enough for the company to over 50 locations in New York, Chicago, Boston and Washington, D.C.
But until recently, one aspect of the dining experience was lost in translation: salads. Pret, as it's commonly known, long served salads in small, rectangular cardboard boxes. They looked like this:
These boxes fit in well with the chain's simple aesthetic. They're clean and low-tech. But for Americans, they present a major problem.
"It turns out Americans like to shake their salads," Brad Herron, Pret's VP of purchasing, said at a recent lunch with journalists in the company's New York culinary headquarters.
The boxes don't have enough empty space for customers to shake dressing into the salad in lieu of proper tossing. And once they're opened, they can't be sealed again -- so if you're foolhardy enough to try to shake it, you'll get dressing all over your shirt.
Herron explained that it didn't occur to Pret's British product designers to account for this kind of behavior because Brits don't generally shake their salads. What do they do instead?
"They just pour a bit of dressing on top, I guess," Herron said. "Apparently some of them will dip bits of lettuce into the dressing on the side."
In any case, when Pret-A-Manger's American team was overhauling their salad menu for this summer, they decided to pay as much attention to their salad container as the salad within it. They tested several different possible shapes and materials before settling on a big new plastic bowl that looks like this:
The new containers hit U.S. stores on June 24, along with four new salads: Beet & Berry, Prosciutto & Quinoa, Falafel and Market Fresh. They're accompanied by a small sign that touts them as "100% Recyclable, 100% Shakeable." That first quality, Herron explained, is a preemptive response to the most common complaint about the new bowls.
"Everybody sees these things and thinks, that's a lot of plastic, that must be worse for the environment than the old boxes," he said, holding a new salad container. "But these are 100 percent recyclable -- we made sure of that. And the old boxes were lined with plastic, so, to recycle them, you'd have to take them apart first, which just doesn't happen."
That's a benefit no matter how you shake it.