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NEW DELHI : After the fashion world, Reliance Brands Ltd (RBL) is eyeing the food and beverages space. The company has announced a strategic partnership with Pret A Manger, the UK-based fresh food and organic coffee chain that has more than 550 stores across the world, to launch and build the brand in India.

Started in London in 1986, Pret A Manger, French for “ready to eat", is known for its sandwiches, salads and wraps, besides coffee.

As part of the master franchise partnership, Reliance Brands will open the food chain across the country, starting with major cities and travel hubs.

In an interview, Pano Christou, the chief executive of Pret A Manger, said: “I think there’s a strong connection between the UK and India—the number of students that come to the UK, people travelling to the UK for pleasure. And I think that when you look at the younger population in India, they are going out more, eating out more, experimenting more. I think India is a very exciting market."

RBL, a unit of Reliance Retail Ventures Ltd, began operations in 2007 with a mandate to launch and build global brands in luxury to premium segments across fashion and lifestyle.

In the past five years, RBL has invested in homegrown Indian designer labels, such as Manish Malhotra and Anamika Khanna, as well as partnering with international luxury and fashion brands.

Its current portfolio of brand partnerships includes Armani Exchange, Bally, Bottega Veneta, Brooks Brothers, Burberry, Canali, Coach, Diesel, Dune, Emporio Armani, Ermenegildo Zegna, G-Star Raw, Gas, Giorgio Armani, Hamleys, Hugo Boss, Hunkemoller, Jimmy Choo, Kate Spade New York, Manish Malhotra, Michael Kors, Mothercare and Muji.

“The secret sauce of RBL is understanding these 50 million consumers who have disposable income, travel the world and want to experience new things," said RBL’s managing director Darshan Mehta.

“We follow the way these consumers spend their money, and what we have discovered is that there is an engagement and involvement in food as a category of consumption as much as in fashion. People are as much engaged in food experiences as in retail experiences. Frankly, I think food is the new fashion."

In a market crowded with Tata’s Starbucks stores and a growing number of homegrown coffee brands that also offer food, it would be interesting to see how Pret will fare. Both Christou and Mehta are confident. “We have a good brand and a proven track record, so I think we don’t have to worry about growth. The idea right now is to connect with the consumer and take it forward from there," says Mehta. To suit the Indian palate, the chain will make some changes to its global menu, details of which are still a work in progress. Regarding the specific number of stores and locations, Christou said: “We’d like to open our first store within the first fiscal year. And after that, we will evolve based on the response we get from the consumer."

Mehta added: “Indians, like their global counterparts, are seeking fresh and organic ingredient-led dining experiences. Couple that with the high recall the Pret brand enjoys in the country, it’s undoubtedly a recipe for success."

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