NORTH East England Chamber of Commerce members heard the secret of Greggs growth from the man who has led substantial change in the business over the past seven years.

Greggs chief executive, Roger Whiteside OBE, describes himself as “a retail veteran”, having worked for Marks & Spencer for 20 years, then going on to help launch the Ocado brand before joining Greggs to spearhead growth ambitions.

He said: “Greggs is a great brand, with excellent people and a brilliant reputation but when I joined, the ‘food to go’ sector was experiencing a boom with many newcomers in the marketplace like Costa and Subway.

“We were losing market share and needed to restructure the business in a major way.

“After researching how we operated and how the business model could be improved, we implemented a number of changes.

“Our systems were adapted so we could scale up easily, our product range was changed and supply chains set up differently to centralise purchasing.”

Mr Whiteside saw that to make headway, the business needed to make people who weren’t already customers think of Greggs differently.

He said: “What I love about our business is what is already here, so I just needed to help nurture the fantastic values present.

“Throughout its existence Greggs has managed to not be overly commercial, obtain some scale and yet still retain family values.

“We believe it is very important to be a good corporate citizen like being a member of the Chamber. You also really get the value of this attitude when times are challenging, as they are at present. Success is down to how well you walk the talk.”

Greggs Foundation to support local causes is part of this approach. Set up 30 years ago, one per cent of profits go towards its work and the 500 Greggs School Breakfast Clubs.

In his talk, Mr Whiteside explained how Greggs is increasingly using digital technology and experiencing substantial growth through channels such as Just Eat. He sees food delivery as a significant new market.

He said: “Customers will buy from the most convenient channel for them at a particular time so home delivery, or drive through access to our products, will become more and more significant.”

The importance of personal contact was also at the heart of the business with his staff encouraged to get to know their customers’ names, he added.

This approach will be taken into a future more bespoke sandwich offer for example so individual preferences are catered for as far as possible.

Covid has also put challenges at the Greggs door with the company expected to make a loss for the first time in its history.

It is also tackling its carbon footprint with the ambition to become net zero in the future. The business is also working with supply chain members to encourage them to identify ways of reducing carbon emissions.

Mr Whiteside also gave his insights on turning around a business.

He said: “You have to get people to come with you and for them to do that they have to be able to visualise the end game. It has to be real, and in turn, successful.

“Some people in our company were sceptical about our venture into home delivery at first but then when they saw the demand they got right behind it.”

Looking towards the future, Mr Whiteside sees the opportunity for consumption of Greggs’ products from 6pm in the evening, more digital connection with customers and more options for individual choice.

Closing the webinar, and to illustrate the growth plans, he said there had been seven new shops opened around the country this week alone.

“We are very proud to be a national company based in the North-East. In the future we also have ambitions to be an international brand,” he said.

The Chamber event was sponsored by the Wingrove Motor Group.