Written by: Valerie Hazelrig
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times, often while scoffing my face in a shopping precinct – the best sandwich on the high street is not a fancy pre-packaged affair from Marks & Spencer’s, it’s from Greggs the Bakers.
There’s something about the freshness of the bread, the surprising and creative filling combinations, and of course the low price – they’re the next best option to packing your own lunch, and often loads more tasty. And on a cold, wet day, what can be better than scurrying inside a Greggs, and buying a soft pasty, oozing with your favourite filling? And don’t even get me started on the cream cakes. Oh okay, I’ll have just one chocolate eclair… and maybe a lemon drizzle muffin.
There can barely be a high street in the UK that doesn’t have the fragrant smell of fresh pastry wafting from a local Greggs, and this got me curious. How big is Greggs? Why are they so succesful? How do they keep their prices so low, and why are their lovely staff always so cheerful?
From humble beginnings
It may surprise you to learn that Greggs is the largest and most successful bakery chain in the UK. The first store was opened by the Gregg family in Newcastle, 1952. The chain had humble beginnings – father John Gray, and son Ian Gregg sold pies from a van. From there, the family went on to open bakeries around Newcastle, Scotland, and the North of England. In the 1970s, Greggs acquired regional bakery chains such as Bakers Oven, and by 1990, they had become the largest bakery chain in the country.
In your face, Ronald
Nowadays, the Greggs chain has over 1500 stores, and some town and city centres have more than one. Incredibly, Greggs is now bigger than McDonald’s in the United Kingdom. Take that cream cake in your face, Ronald McDonald. And unlike McDonald’s, Greggs provides regional food – go into a north-east branch, and you can buy Stotties and Pease Pudding. The network of stores is supplied by 10 regional bakeries, and 90 in-store bakeries. There’s a fleet of almost 400 vehicles delivering pastry and bread daily across the UK – it doesn’t get much fresher than that.
But it’s not all cream cakes and smiles – Greggs have been in the news recently, accused of reducing portion size, while pushing up prices. Some of their best selling products, including bacon rolls, steak bakes, and pizzas have shrunk in size although prices have remained the same, or crept up. Pasties and pizzas have shrunk by 5%, and chicken subs have become 6% smaller. The famous steak bake now has 15% less protein content. Yum Yum doughnuts and triple chocolate muffins are now 7% smaller, and lemon drizzle doughnuts are 8% smaller.
Greggs defended their move, saying it’s in the interests of public health – after all, obesity is reaching crisis levels in the UK. The smaller ‘improved’ versions contain less sugar, salt, and fat, so surely that can’t be a bad thing. The cost of food is rising too – commodities like flour, poultry, beef, pork are getting ever-more expensive, and these costs must be passed on to the consumer.
A slice of the pie
But, the icing on the bun at Greggs is surely the friendliness of the staff. What makes them so chirpy and welcoming, when they’re stood on their feet all day, constantly serving large queues of hungry customers? Could it be something in the pastry or is it something else?
It’s possibly because Greggs staff are eligible for profit share, twice a year. Staff have an added incentive to work hard, because the more profit the company makes, the bigger their dividend.
Greggs also offer a Save as You Earn scheme, plus an annual Employee Opinion Survey. In these surveys, staff are encouraged to share views on what it’s like working for Greggs, and how the workplace can improve. Furthermore, Greggs has a family friendly policy, which takes into consideration a sensible worklife balance for employees. Everybody at Greggs is treated equally, thanks to diversity and inclusion policies they pledge not to discriminate on age, ethnic origin, gender, religion or disability.
Staff retention and training is paramount too – individuals can start working on a till and become a manager in just a few years.
So, next time you get a pasty and a sausage roll from Greggs, realise you’re taking a bite out of a true UK success story – isn’t that delicious?