Greggs revamp aims to fight off challengers

Greggs boss Roger Whiteside has set out his plans to stop the likes of Pret A Manger taking his customers

A Greggs bakery shop
A Greggs bakery shop

Greggs boss Roger Whiteside has set out his plans to stop the likes of Pret A Manger taking his customers.

With its profit down £4.6m from £16m at the start of the year North East bakery Greggs has announced a new direction for its business.

That means a new feel for the shops as the chief executive says the stores’ appearance sends out the wrong message.

Back in 1973 more than 50% per cent of Greggs sales came from bread and rolls. Fast forward four decades and just 6% of sales come from the same products.

Now Mr Whiteside has revealed that instead of going up against supermarket chains and their bakeries he will target the ‘food-on-the-go’ market with a plan to revamp and relocate hundreds of stores over the next three years.

Key to the plan is the need to cut the number of products on offer, focusing on quality and a more welcoming place for people to stop and eat to rival existing chains such as Pret A Manger.

Mr Whiteside, who took over in March after five years as a non-executive, said: “We haven’t helped ourselves with the ambience of our stores. I think people’s perception of Greggs is sometimes coloured by what they see as a shop.

“When you look at what we are doing now with our bakery-food-on-the-go, it is just a much nicer environment to consider resting your feet for a few minutes to eat your savoury or your sandwich or your cup of coffee.

“So I think that is really important and this is part of the reason why our perception with some people in the market is a bit cheap and cheerful. It really frustrates me, for example, that we make all the sandwiches freshly every day in store and yet, when you read all the survey work, half of the people don’t know that.”

The overhaul of existing Greggs stores will see the firm take some of the best ideas from its stores across the UK, such as seating and tables seen in the few Greggs Moments coffee shops being trailed and now in place in Northumberland Street, Newcastle.

It is the city location that Mr Whiteside credits with teaching him all about the business when he first took on the role of chief executive earlier this year.

He said: “The first thing I did as chief executive was in the first week just shadowing in the shops – seeing what was going on on the ground which is what I always do when I join a retailer.

“I think I learnt more in my first 12 hours in Northumberland Street shadowing the manager than I have learnt in five years as a non-executive.

“It is the detail, everything is always in the detail of the execution.”

As the former head of food at M&S and chief executive of Threshers and Punch Taverns Mr Whiteside has a long history in the retail game.

Changes to Greggs shops would also see stores staying open later into the evening with sandwiches available in the morning ready to buy when customers come in for their breakfast. To fund the revamp of up to 240 stores Mr Whiteside has put a hold on all new store openings.

Despite the block and the drop in profits during 2013 he has assured staff there will be no job losses with potential for extra hours as stores stay open longer to meet the changing needs of customers.

Believing it is vital to have fully stacked shelves and the quality of food maintained each day in the food-to-go industry, Mr Whiteside believes the firm has too many products. Just last year the Greggs store in Gosforth had a relaunch bringing in 74 new products.

Taking on the chief executive role he said: “One immediate conclusion I drew was that we have just got way too many products. So let’s clear the desk a bit guys, we are just making things difficult for ourselves. When we did a sweet revamp I intervened and said ‘Look, the first thing you have to do is take 25% off the range.’

“Less is more, in food-on-the-go especially.”

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