James Ashton: Greggs can’t build until construction does


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The Independent Online

The former chief executive of Greggs, Ken McMeikan, used the expression “from barristers to builders” to describe the broad spectrum of customers the sandwich shop serves every week.

I wonder if it is more of the latter and less of the former these days as the economy recovers and Greggs doesn’t. A country goes to work on its stomach and anyone up early enough can observe construction workers queueing under its blue and orange fascia for their carbs at daybreak.

Yet Greggs’ like-for-like sales have fallen for 18 months on the bounce, and a minor recovery was met with a strategy shake-up last week from Roger Whiteside, McMeikan’s successor, who wants to push harder in the takeaway market.

The company was an austerity-era pin-up when it frazzled George Osborne’s wrong-headed pasty tax. Whiteside reported that workers are often buying their lunch butties at the same time as their breakfast first thing in the morning. That backs up the belief that people are working harder than they used to for the same money and can’t even spare the time to leave their desks in the middle of the day.

However, at the top end, I would have thought that cost-conscious City types have traded back up to posher baguettes and sushi as the outlook improves. Having beaten off political interference, could the humble sausage roll wind up suffering as Britain emerges from its economic slumber?