It’s crunch time for Greggs this week as the bakery chain reveals what the future may hold after the pandemic took a big bite out of its sales.
The company, which has more than 2,000 outlets dispensing sausage rolls across the UK, warned in January that it expected to make a full-year loss of up to £15m, the first since it listed on the London Stock Exchange in 1984, and possibly its first ever. Sales are expected to have fallen £300m after the group was forced to close some branches during the high street lockdown, and it lost takeaway trade from commuters, shoppers and those on the school run.
When Roger Whiteside, the chief executive, presents Greggs’s full-year report on Tuesday, investors and analysts will be keen to see how trading has fared since its year-end on 2 January, and what the prospects are as restrictions ease.
With more than half of its stores in towns and suburban locations and only about one in seven in hard-hit city centres and travel hubs, Greggs may have been more resilient than some of its peers. Shares have leapt nearly 70% since the vaccination programme began in the UK, on hopes that it will herald a return to normal and better times for takeaways.
Delivery services now operate from 800 outlets; the group has also instituted click-and-collect and is testing a dinner menu for home delivery. Food courier group Just Eat Takeaway credited its exclusive tie-up with Greggs with helping to boost its UK orders by 35%. But analysts are sceptical that such services can be a profitable route for growth for the likes of Greggs, especially once habits normalise after lockdown ends.
With working from home likely to persist throughout the summer, at least for many office workers, Greggs has already warned that it does not expect a return to pre-Covid trading levels until next year at the earliest.
On Tuesday we will also see if the return to school in England has heralded a rush for snacks and coffee, or whether Greggs’s once-loyal customers are now munching on fruit and sipping green tea at home.
It’s still not clear whether shoppers will be dashing back to high streets when restrictions lift next month, or sticking to their new habits of shopping online, in local neighbourhoods and at retail parks.
And having saved cash with beans on toast at home, will the nation be so willing to cough up almost £4 for a large latte and a sausage roll? It could also be that a new focus on health means hefty pastries are less tempting.
The City will be keen to hear more news of how Greggs sees the future of dining on the hoof.
“Current trading will be a big negative, but that number is really irrelevant to the investment case,” says Jonathan Pritchard at Peel Hunt. “We will want to see what they expect in the medium term. Can they return to the same sales densities next year – or never again? Were we at peak Greggs before the pandemic?”
Efforts to cut costs led to 820 redundancies last year and there has to be a chance that more will be on the way. But Greggs has already shown it is smart enough to adapt to changing habits, introducing more salads and vegan options, for example. The group has flagged proposals to expand its array of drive-throughs and sites on retail parks as part of plans for 100 new outlets in 2021. It may also step into more local neighbourhoods, as John Lewis also suggested it may do later this year.
In January, Whiteside seemed confident that city life would resume and said Greggs would be taking the opportunity of bargain rents to expand its presence in London. It will be interesting to see if two further months of lockdown have cooled his enthusiasm for such plans.