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The boss of Greggs has revealed he has been forced to increase prices on some products due to the rising cost of ingredients and wages.
Roger Whiteside added that the raging Omicron infection rate has led to some stores having to close due to staff shortages and supply chain problems.
He told the PA news agency the impact of the variant has been as bad as the so-called pingdemic, which saw hundreds of thousands of people forced to self-isolate after coming into close contact with those infected.
Mr Whiteside said: “It feels about the same as during the pingdemic. Stores are having to close as a result – not necessarily whole days but if you turn up in the morning and half the people aren’t there we see if we can find people in nearby shops who can help out.
“It typically means a shop might have to close early or open late, or in some cases not open at all because they can’t get the team together.”
His comments come as the boss revealed he would be stepping down from the role later in the year after nine years at the helm and retiring from the world of business.
The boss said: “The time had to come eventually. I’ve always said I wanted to retire before 65, so I’ll be 64 and a half by the time I leave, so I’ve just about made it.
“I’m going to go through a full retirement and spend the rest of my days with friends and family and doing things that I really love doing.
“You won’t see me going plural (becoming a non-executive) or doing any chairmanships.
“I’ve kept my options open thinking about it, but at the end of the day, I’ve got so many other things I want to do.
“I spent most of my life doing business things and I’d like to spend the final chapter – adventure before dementia, that’s what I say.”
The boss added he wants to spend more time with his young grandson, along with time on other activities.
He said: “I want to spend more time on the golf course, on learning a musical instrument, mucking about with motor racing cars and skiing. That sort of stuff, so nothing earth-shattering.
“A year ago I picked up a guitar and said ‘I’m going to learn this thing’. It was the most difficult challenge I’ve ever done. There will be no public performances, I can guarantee that.”
He will stay in post until May before handing over the reins to retail and property director Roisin Currie.
His nine-year tenure draws to a close as the company revealed that sales across its 2,181 stores remain strong – although they eased in the run-up to Christmas as the Omicron variant of Covid-19 raged.
Greggs said it saw “a strong performance in October being followed by more challenging conditions as consumers responded to precautionary messages relating to the new coronavirus variant”.
Overall, sales for the 12 months of 2021 hit £1.23 billion – a 51% increase on the £811 million in 2020 when stores were hit by the pandemic.
This was also a 5.3% rise on sales in 2019. However, on a two-year like-for-like basis, with new stores not included in the data, sales were down 3.3%.
In the final three months of the year sales were up 0.8% in 1,806 company-managed stores.
During the year Greggs said it opened 131 new sites, including 50 franchises, and closed 28 – leaving an estate of 2,181. Of those, 1,000 are now available for delivery on Just Eat.
The strong growth in the year also led to bosses announcing that planned pay awards will be brought forward.
And while restrictions led to an easing of sales in the winter months, customers who did venture out snapped up 6.7 million mince pies and Greggs’ vegan festive bake sold well, the company said.
On price rises, Mr Whiteside said: “We try and absorb as many of the cost increases that get passed to us as possible and then put through price increases where we can’t avoid it, and we’ve done that this year – 5p here, 10p there – where we’ve simply been unable to absorb all the price increases placed on us. The question is, does the inflationary pressure recede or go up.”