A BAKER famous for once selling goods by bicycle is pushing ahead with plans for an online click-and-collect service.

Greggs is working out a digital format it says will allow customers to electronically order products and pick them up in stores.

Bosses say the plans could be in place in two years, adding they aim to succeed where competitors have struggled previously in marrying together demand with the practicalities of customer service.

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The company, which began when John Gregg sold eggs and yeast from his bike to Newcastle families in the 1930s, is already trialling a sandwich and confectionary delivery service that is targeting office workers across the North-East, London and Manchester, to get a feel for operational requirements.

Speaking to The Northern Echo yesterday, Roger Whiteside, chief executive, said the business would take its time in rolling out a click-and-collect offering, but said it was confident of the venture being a success.

He said: “The reason why we cannot do it quickly is because we need to get full dependency on the system we are developing.

“The easiest thing is to take an order but fulfilling it is another operational challenge.

“We will move slowly but we will get it right.

“The (existing delivery service) will help learn about the logistics of collection.”

Mr Whiteside also confirmed the company, which has transitioned itself from a traditional baker into what it calls a food-on-the-go operator, will continue with plans to meet a long-held target of extending its store estate beyond 2,000.

He said the Newcastleheadquartered business expects to open a net 100 outlets this year, with its high street bases complemented by further moves onto business and retail parks and travel stops, and expansion into the somewhat virgin territories of Northern Ireland and the South-West.

Mr Whiteside revealed it had opened more stores across the Irish Sea following a successful trial with motorway service operator Applegreen, while in Devon it will add to a new Torquay shop with sites in Plymouth and Barnstaple.

However, the former boss of Marks and Spencer’s food halls said Greggs wasn’t seeking to muscle in on traditional Cornish pasty makers’ terrain in its latter endeavour.

He added: “We are not going to be competing with the Cornish pasty; we are going to sell sandwiches, cakes and our sausage rolls.”

Mr Whiteside was speaking after Greggs unveiled a trading update yesterday for the first 19 weeks of the year, which showed like-for-like sales rose 3.6 per cent in the period to May 13, with total sales growing 7.5 per cent.

The company was helped by clamour for its healthy eating ranges, including cold-pressed juice and fresh salads, with the business revealing customers are increasingly recognising “the quality and value” of its breakfast menu, which includes savoury rolls, porridge and croissants.

However, Mr Whiteside reiterated previous caution that higher inflation and the slowing economy pose risks going forward, citing higher ingredient costs and the National Living Wage as challenges to its bottom line, though he said the firm would continue trying to protect customers from any price increases.

He added: “We have made a good start to 2017, although the sales outlook remains uncertain in the context of slowing growth in disposable incomes.

“We are on high alert waiting to see if (the situation) changes but so far it has not and we have been fighting hard to minimise the impact on customers.

“We are probably better positioned than most to be able to react to it.”