Greggs plans to open more drive-thrus and launch vegan options as part of expansion
North East bakery chain Greggs is planning to ramp up shop openings this year after a solid performance in 2017.
The company aims to open between 110 and 130 shops on a net basis over the year, with Greggs boss Roger Whiteside saying 2018 would see record investment in the group's supply chain.
Greggs opened its first drive-thru in 2016 in Greater Manchester, and Mr Whiteside has been quoted in reports that more drive-thru branches will open in the near future.
The high street favourite hit the headlines earlier this month when it was the subject of a petition by animal rights campaign group PETA, which was for the launch of a vegan alternative to its popular sausage roll.
Mr Whiteside told The Telegraph that while a “great tasting” vegan sausage roll was proving difficult, the chain was likely to start selling vegan sandwiches this year.
"We're aware people would like those types of options in some of our savoury categories and things, but they're more difficult to achieve, frankly, because what we're looking to do is to find things that have broad appeal because they taste great," he told the paper.
The expansion plan announcement comes after Greggs grew its estate to 1,854 in 2017, having opened 131 shops and closed 41.
The group said like-for-like sales rose 3.7% last year, but growth slowed to 3% in the final three months as it came up against tough comparisons from a strong performance the previous Christmas.
Mr Whiteside said: "We finished 2017 well, delivering our 17th consecutive quarter of like-for-like sales growth, and anticipate that we will report full-year results for 2017 in line with our previous expectations.
"2018 will be a record year for investment in our supply chain and we intend to increase the rate of new shop openings as we continue to grow Greggs as a leading food-on-the-go brand."
But the group cautioned that cost pressures will continue over 2018, albeit at a slower rate than in 2017, when retailers were clobbered by inflation from the weak pound, soaring business rates and higher wage costs.
The firm said it made progress on its supply chain investment programme at the end of the year, testing new systems and commissioning a new national manufacturing facility for the production of small cakes and muffins at its Leeds site.
It also aims to continue with refurbishments, revamping around 100 shops over 2018.
Greggs said its classic favourites performed well in the final three months of 2017, while it also added Christmas specials such as its festive bake and fresh-baked mince pies.
It said that hot options, such as hot sandwiches and its gluten-free "balanced choice" soup also proved popular, while it launched new drinks including a caramel latte and, in the new year, a new focaccia-style pizza was added to the menu.