A BAKER founded as a pushbike-based purveyor of eggs and yeast is going underground to boost sales and pressing ahead with a drive-thru expansion, its boss has told The Northern Echo.

Greggs is targeting London’s commuter community in a new Westminster Tube store.

Boss Roger Whiteside said the move could pave the way for significant expansion across the capital’s sprawling Tube network as the business satisfies travellers’ proclivity for savoury and sweet treats.

Mr Whiteside also told the Echo that Newcastle-headquartered Greggs, founded in the 1930s by John Robson Gregg, who sold his goods on North-East streets, remains committed to increasing its presence in the modern drivethru culture.

Traditionally associated with the US, drive-thrus were once solely the domain of operators such as burger chain McDonald’s.

However, consumers’ ever-increasing desire for convenience has meant firms, including Costa Coffee, have joined the fray, and Mr Whiteside confirmed Greggs could “get one or two away” this year, having already launched a site in Manchester.

Referring to its Tube venture, which is based near the site’s ticket barriers, Mr Whiteside said the company hopes to tap into consumers’ desire for its ever-popular sausage rolls and steak bakes as they leave the station or if they are passing on the street above.

“We are excited about Westminster”, chief executive Mr Whiteside told the Echo, “and we think we can make it work.

“(This isn’t necessarily targeting) people who are eating and drinking on the Tube.

“It’s about the other side and the people who are exiting the Tube or who are passing by and know we are down there.

If it works, we will be interested in as many Tube locations as we can get into.”

Mr Whiteside, the former Marks and Spencer food hall chief, also reiterated its drivethru intentions and said the company will stand by a previously-launched endeavour to provide sandwich platters for offices and parties, despite thrifty intentions somewhat passing more well-heeled customers by.

He said: “We are working on a drive-thru pipeline, but they are going to take a while.

"If we are lucky, we might get one or two by the end of this year.

“They will probably start flowing through more early next year but we are in the market for them.

“We still offer the platter service and it is an interesting service to offer as an aside.

"We offer value for money but customers in these situations are sometimes not spending their money, so they are less conscious of value.

“It will take time to build in that market”, added Mr Whiteside, who also confirmed the business, which has more than 1,850 outlets, expects to smash a long-held target of operating 2,000 shops across the country over the next 12 months.

He was speaking after revealing the company’s annual results, which showed total sales increased 7.4 per cent to £960m in the 12 months to December 30.

Operating profit, excluding property profits and exceptional items, was up 4.6 per cent to £81.7m, though pre-tax profit was down from £75.1m to £71.9m thanks, in part, to an ongoing investment programme aimed at improving production.

The changes will include its Gosforth bakery becoming a so-called centre of excellence for the firm’s bigselling doughnuts, with all treats made in the region and dispersed to its retail network.

Greggs previously confirmed the move, which complements similar investments in Scotland and Leeds to make Yum Yums and cake and muffins, respectively, will mean hundreds of redundancies, but Mr Whiteside said it also expects to deliver a substantial number of new posts across shop, warehouse and delivery positions.

Hailing its progress in 2017, which saw the company’s healthier Balanced Choicebranded range of sandwiches and snacks account for more than £100m of sales, Mr Whiteside added: “We delivered another strong performance in challenging economic circumstances as rising inflation impacted both our own costs and customers’ disposable income.

“We are encouraged by the start to the year.”