Northern Ireland 'fertile ground' for food firm Greggs
THE boss of high street bakery chain Greggs described Northern Ireland yesterday as "fertile ground for growth" as it prepares to launch its first company-managed outlet at Boucher Road retail park in Belfast.
But the food-on-the-go retailer's chief executive Roger Whiteside denied speculation that Greggs has some sort of grand plan to open 50 stores in the north in the medium to longer term.
"We never have, nor never will, put a number on our future store plans," he told the Irish News.
"We've never mentioned 30 or 40 or 50 outlets, so that's just made up.
"But what I can say is that, based on what we've seen so far from our franchised operation at Applegreen on the M2, is that Northern Ireland can be successful for us.
"There's every indication that it will be fertile ground for growth should we roll out any expansion in the coming years," Mr Whiteside said.
Newcastle-based Greggs, which has 1,698 outlets across the UK, said total sales rose by 5.2 per cent in the year to the end of December, with like-for-likes up 4.7 per cent.
The company - which sells tens of thousands of its signature sausage rolls daily ("enough a year to stretch to the moon and back" says Whiteside) anticipates full-year profits to be in line with expectations when it reveals its full financial results on March 1. Last year's profits jumped 41 per cent to £58.3 million.
The sales growth was led by sandwiches and drinks, with salads and 'no added sugar' drinks rising in popularity. Mince pies and 'festive bake' ranges were also popular with customers, while Greggs has also widened its breakfast offering and improved its coffee range by adding flat whites to the menu.
During the year it opened 122 new outlets (including 61 franchised units) and closed 74, growing the estate to just shy of 7,000 shops trading as of January 2. It now has 105 franchised shops operated by partners in travel and other convenience locations.
"In 2015 we completed 222 shop refurbishments including the conversion of 20 of our larger bakery cafés to the 'bakery food-on-the-go' format. This transformational programme continues to go well and we will invest at a similar rate in the year ahead, Mr Whiteside said.
"It really was another excellent year of progress as we continue to transform Greggs into a modern, well-invested food-on-the-go retailer."