Greggs has confirmed Roger Whiteside is to step down as chief executive in May, after nine years leading a turnaround at the bakery chain, as it revealed strong sales of mince pies and vegan festive bakes helped lift sales in the run-up to Christmas.
Whiteside said he was handing over the business “in a strong place” to Roisin Currie, the group’s retail and property director, after a “fantastic journey”, despite challenges including inflation and staff shortages.
He said prices on Greggs products had risen by 5p-10p because of increases in the cost of ingredients, energy and labour which were affecting its suppliers as well as itself.
“We won’t pass that all on in price [rises] but we have to pass on some,” Whiteside said.
He said prices had already been put up for the first half of 2022 and it was not yet clear if there would be a further increase in the second half of the year as Greggs was still negotiating with suppliers for that period.
Whiteside said about 70 out of more more than 2,000 Greggs shops had been affected by staff shortages as a result of employees being infected with Covid-19, or having to isolate. He said the number of outlets affected was rising every week.
“We have seen a sharp rise in absences,” said Whiteside, adding that he expected the situation to worsen. “It’s a matter of concern but we managed before in the ‘pingdemic’ and our teams are doing a great job [again].”
Despite the inflationary and staffing woes, the company – known for its sausage rolls, steak bakes and vegan snacks – said in a trading update that it expected to beat its pretax profit forecast for 2021 when it reports official full-year results in March.
Greggs said sales rose 0.8% in the three months to 1 January, compared with the same period two years before, contributing to a 5.3% increase in sales for the whole of last year to £1.2bn. Annual sales were down 3.3% excluding new store openings.
Whiteside, a veteran of Ocado and Marks & Spencer who was poached from Punch Taverns to run Greggs in 2013, will continue to work with the company to “support the transition process” until his notice period expires on 5 January next year.
Shares in Greggs have risen from £4.70 when Whiteside started as chief executive in February 2013 to more than £31.00 on Thursday.
Currie, who joined Greggs in 2010, is responsible for the chain’s 2,200 stores across the UK and rapidly expanding home delivery partnership with Just Eat.
“Roisin has played a central role in the success of Greggs as it has developed as a multichannel food-on-the-go business and I am delighted that she will lead the next phase of our growth as chief executive,” said Ian Durant, Greggs’ chair.
“She has deep experience of our culture and our strategic plan, and will lead with energy and character.”
Currie will become chief executive designate and an executive director from 1 February and take over from Whiteside at the company’s annual general meeting in May.
Greggs said it sold 6.7m mince pies in the run-up to Christmas, as fourth quarter like-for-like sales beat 2019 levels by 0.8%, despite “continued disruption to staffing and supply chains”.
Whiteside, 63, praised the efforts of the company’s 25,000 staff, who would be receiving their annual pay awards five months early.
“Greggs has made great progress in 2021 despite tough trading conditions,” Whiteside said.
“We enter 2022 with a strong financial position that will support our ambitions to accelerate the rate of growth in our shop estate whilst developing new digital channels and extending the trading day.”
The company opened 131 new shops last year and closed 28, and has expanded its home delivery service with Just Eat to 1,000 outlets.
Greggs plans to open 150 stores this year and intends to pay shareholders a special dividend of £30m-£40m, depending on trading conditions.
The company said inflationary pressure increased towards the end of last year and was “likely to remain elevated in 2022”.
“While conditions in the first few months of 2022 are likely to remain challenging, we are confident that we are well placed to make progress on the many attractive opportunities that lie ahead,” Whiteside said.