SWEET mince pies flew out of Greggs in record numbers over Christmas as the North East-based baked goods chain enjoyed a positive festive period.
The Newcastle firm revealed its sales had risen by 10.8% in the five-week trading period to January 7 compared to the previous year, while like-for-like sales were up 5.1%.
It sold more than 7.5m sweet mince pies, with Festive Bakes up 27% on last year and coffee sales rising 21%.
Sales of breakfast rolls were up 7% with croissants and pain au chocolats up 12% and porridge sales rising by 18%. Around 600,000 of the baker’s festive gingerbread fairy buns were sold and 300,000 of the gingerbread cupcakes.
Like-for-like sales were up by 1.4% in 2011 as a whole, with total sales rising by 5.8%.
Chief executive Ken McMeikan said: “I’m absolutely delighted with our performance. Our great strength is our value and that seemed to really strike a chord with the customer.”
Despite the challenging environment on the high street, Greggs opened a record 98 new shops in 2011 – a net increase of 84 when closures were taken into account. It also refurbished 170 shops.
The total of 1,571 stores is expected to increase in 2012 with another 90 net new shops set to be opened.
Its expansion took its total employee numbers over 20,000 for the first time with the addition of another 800 jobs.
It hopes to create a similar amount in the next 12 months and around 170 of these could be in the North East and Yorkshire depending on where shops are opened.
A couple of these could bear the Greggs Moment sub-brand after a successful trial opening in Newcastle’s Northumberland Street. It has also secured land in Salisbury in Wiltshire for a bakery serving the South West, but this may not happen until 2013 or later.
Greggs is also continuing its work in the community and is now up to 180 breakfast clubs providing impoverished children with a free meal before school.
It is encouraging other companies to act as partners in expanding the network of clubs and firms such as Beachcroft Solicitors, Etihad Airways and PricewaterhouseCoopers are already involved.
On top of that, it offers placements and apprenticeships for young unemployed people in the shops and bakeries, provided job guidance in women’s prisons and to young offenders, and gave training and mentorship to five homeless people as part of a scheme which saw four go on to be employed by Greggs and one to find work elsewhere.
McMeikan said: “The reality is that with the economy the way it is, companies that are growing and successful have even more of a responsibility to do more or communities that are facing a tough time.”
He is also aware that companies providing apprenticeships and other placements should aim to offer some form of development that benefits the person, rather than just exploit their labour for free.
He said: “The company must act responsibly both in opportunities they provide and also to make sure there’s a chance of a real job at the end of it.
“But it’s not enough just to offer them a job as it can be difficult to transition into the world of work after you’ve been unemployed long-term. You’ve got to provide training and mentoring.
“I believe that we can do all these things.”