GREGGS the bakers will open fewer new stores than it had planned this year amid stuttering sales.
The Newcastle-based seller of sausage rolls, pies and pasties will instead refurbish up to 300 of its existing branches in an effort to maintain its grip on the nations tastebuds. The plan is to sell upmarket items such as speciality breads and pizzas as well as install seating areas in more branches. It will add about 50 new outlets to the 1670 it has nationwide after earlier saying it expected to open 75 in 2013. The company opened 100 last year.
The move, described by chief executive, Ken McMeikan as "a rebalancing" of the company's strategy came as it reported sales over the festive period had slipped 2.9 per cent compared to 2011.
"This is a resilient trading performance given the tough comparison versus last year when we had a particularly favourable trading pattern with Christmas Day and New Year's Day falling on Sundays," said Mr McMeikan, who declined to confirm when he will be leaving the company to join catering suppliers Brakes. He is staying with Greggs to help find his successor. He said no date had been set for his departure which prompted a sharp drop in the company's share price when it was announced in December.
About £60m has been earmarked for capital expenditure this year, which includes £15m on a new bakery in the South-West.
Greggs also intends to open more branches in service stations and extend its range of frozen products sold in Iceland shops.
A trial with the Armed Forces, which saw its savouries cooked for homesick squaddies on the British military base in Gutersloh, Germany, has been a great success, the company said. It is in "advanced talks" with the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes (Naafi) that will see the idea extended to other bases, said Mr McMeikan, a Royal Navy veteran of the 1982 Falklands conflict.
Before Christmas the baker sent 8,000 festive bakes, a pasty containing chicken, bacon, cranberry and stuffing, to members of the Armed Forces based in Afghanistan.