(Reuters) - Pret A Manger has bought smaller rival EAT, the British sandwich and coffee shop chain said on Wednesday, as it looks to capitalise on the thriving vegan and vegetarian market through its Veggie Pret brand.
Pret A Manger said it plans to convert most of the EAT shops into Veggie Pret outlets catering to health-conscious consumers who prefer plant-based meals over meat.
"The acquisition of the EAT estate is a wonderful opportunity to turbo charge the development of Veggie Pret and put significant resources behind it," Chief Executive Clive Schlee said.
JAB, the family office of the billionaire Reimann family, bought Pret A Manger for $2 billion (£1.5 billion) from its private equity owners in 2018.
The first Veggie Pret was opened in 2016 and Pret A Manger has been experimenting with vegetarian and vegan options for products such as brownies and macaroni and cheese as well as offering dishes such as a vegan Mediterranean mezze salad.
Three more Veggie Pret branches have opened in London and Manchester.
The company did not disclose the terms of the deal. JAB declined to comment.
Britain's high streets are struggling, with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver's restaurant chain on Tuesday joining a string of companies going into administration with the loss of 1,000 jobs.
Vegan and vegetarian offerings have been a bright spot with bakery Greggs Plc citing its vegan sausage rolls as it raised its annual forecast for the second time this year.
In North America, Beyond Meat and rival Impossible Foods are fighting for market share by launching new products at fast-food restaurants.
Pret A Manger opened in London in 1986 and has more than 500 locations in the UK, United States and cities including Paris, Hong Kong and Shanghai serving more than 300,000 customers a day.
(Reporting by Sangameswaran S and Noor Zainab Hussain in Bengaluru; editing by Gopakumar Warrier and Jason Neely)