“THERE’S more to Greggs than a warm sausage roll.”

The eulogy comes not from the company’s PR machine, but Sir Terry Wogan.

Sir Terry, of course, knows how to spin a line.

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Years of sitting with BBC microphone in hand while bizarre acts warble equally outlandish numbers in the Eurovision Song Contest are testament to that.

But, in this case, he has a point.

The Newcastle-based company, which began life in the 1930s when founder John Robson Gregg sold eggs and yeast from his bicycle, and later pies from his van to miners’ wives, is now a bakery juggernaut.

Peel back the flaky layers of its pastry-filled years and the story, pun intended, is one of a glorious rise.

Greggs’ shops dominate the high street; it has has expanded into a car ferry terminal and it is now targeting Northern Ireland to build on its North-East roots.

Last week, it tightened its grip on the roadside sector by signing up for more stores with a forecourt firm.

However, its ascent has not been without some troubles.

In 2013, bosses issued their first profits warning for five years as the economic downturn bit, with poor weather compounding weak consumer spending.

More challenges came in early 2014, when the firm announced plans to axe more than 400 posts, including 300 jobs across its in-store bakeries and 110 management positions.

The changes were part of plans to move in-store work, a legacy of its acquisition of the Bakers Oven chain across the South and West Midlands, into its regional bakery network.

Bosses had their eye on a big prize.

The firm aims to become the leading player in the UK’s £6bn food-on-the-go snack industry, which focuses on convenience and satisfies customers’ inclination to pop in store for a sausage roll or sandwich while out in town.

It doesn’t rely as heavily on the old traditions, such as freshly-made bread, and Greggs’ has undergone a makeover in the last two years to become more attuned to the latest tastes.

The switch has been masterminded by chief executive Roger Whiteside, a former Marks and Spencer food halls boss.

When asked by The Northern Echo how he views the transformation, Mr Whiteside is unequivocal.

“The food-on-the-go-market is worth £6bn and while we defended our position as the leading retail bakery business, existing competitors rapidly expanded shop numbers and better met customer demands”, he said.

“Traditional products like bread have fallen, but if there is still demand we will still bake it.

“However, what we are trying to do is build on our baking credentials and use our heritage to our advantage.

“The food-on-the-go side of things has surpassed our expectations and it’s encouraging to see how some of the changes have taken hold.

“We are building a better platform to take things on from here and we have a unique position in that we make our own sandwiches fresh every day, which is very important for customers.”

Mr Whiteside’s point about delving into new areas is crucial to its growth plans.

Products-wise, its new coffee and Balanced Choice range, which includes pasta, sandwiches and flavoured water, are playing their part.

Indeed, they account for about £1m of sales every week.

Geographically, however, the firm still has pockets of space to fill.

A map of the UK shows Devon has just a handful of stores, with Cornwall devoid of any.

Greggs has 1,668 outlets, about 400 sites more than burger chain McDonald’s UK footprint, and has plans to extend the number to 2,000.

However, to cement its market position, Mr Whiteside says the company must look away from the main thoroughfare.

That means out of town retail centres and office parks.

It also means roadside service stations.

Last week, the business revealed a deal with forecourt operator Euro Garages to take its goods into 27 sites.

Refurbishment work is being carried out now on shops, with Greggs’ stores expected to open before Christmas.

It already has outlets in 30 Euro Garage bases, and has similar deals with Moto and Applegreen, with the latter supporting its trial venture into Northern Ireland.

Mr Whiteside said: “There is still scope for 2,000 outlets in the UK.

“You have to be within spitting distance for consumer’s convenience, which is why we need so many shops.

“We know there are a lot of opportunities to open shops, particularly away from high streets on areas such as retail parks, industrial parks and transport locations.

“There is the odd pocket that we could do more in, particularly the South-East and South-West, but we are pretty well covered.

“Our franchise has done fantastically well and the beauty of the Greggs brand is that it appeals right across the spectrum.

“We have the relationship with Moto and Euro Garages, and they are doing very well, but there is still room for growth.

“We have got the high streets covered, but we need more in the areas away from that.

“With Euro Garages, Moto and Applegreen, people can fill up the car and enjoy food-on-the-go at the same time.”

Mr Whiteside is a symbol of Greggs’ present and its future.

But, to understand how the company reached its lofty standing, you have to go back to the times it was bruised by recessions and rocked by the Second World War.

You have to look at how it came through the freedoms of the 1960s, the decline of shipbuilding and mining in the region and the Thatcher era.

Ian Gregg, John Robson’s son, says it progress is down to simple rules and old-fashioned values.

Writing in his book, Bread: The Story of Greggs, he said: “Businesses have grown larger and more complex and the position of individuals less important.

“The men who run them are paid millions, creating a culture of smash-and-grab consumerism and brand worship.

“All this is in stark contrast to what Greggs is about: simple, old-fashioned values that reflect roots and family traditions, the production of great-tasting, good-value products and treating people fairly.

“One way or another, Greggs has navigated its way through the decades and seems to go from strength to strength.

“Today, it seems to have penetrated the national psyche.

“Hardly a day goes by without a comment in the press or a joke on TV or radio.

“Customers identify with a business that seems local rather than global and doesn’t put shareholders before consumers and staff.”

Sir Terry was right.