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Greggs to cut jobs as COVID-19 hits sales

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·Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
·3-min read
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Watch: Greggs warns of tough times for 'foreseeable future' as it plans cuts

Greggs (GRG.L) has started consultations with staff on reducing hours at 800 of its shops, potentially putting hundreds of jobs at risk if a deal can’t be reached.

In a trading update on Tuesday, the bakery chain said it had started talks with unions and staff on reducing working hours. The consultation process is due to last until November.

A spokesperson declined to say how many jobs were at risk but confirmed the consultation affects 800 of Greggs’ 2,000 stores. The company employs about 25,000 people across the UK.

“Our aim is to minimise the risk of job losses by negotiating reduced hours in our shops and we will update on the outcome of the consultation when concluded,” the company said.

NORTHAMPTONSHIRE, UNITED KINGDOM - 2020/08/01: Posters advising customers on Covid-19 prevention measures posted on a Greggs shop on the High Street The Government has made it mandatory to wear face coverings in all public transport, supermarkets and indoor shopping centres as a measure to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus. (Photo by David Mbiyu/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Posters advising customers on COVID-19 prevention measures posted on a Greggs shop in Northamptonshire, England. Photo: David Mbiyu/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty

Roger Whiteside, chief executive of Greggs, said the final number of jobs at risk would depend on negotiations.

“We will publish that number when it’s available, we just don’t have it now,” he told journalists.

Greggs blamed the looming cuts on a downturn in trading and the end of the government’s coronavirus job protection scheme.

“With the Job Retention Scheme planned to end in October we are taking steps to ensure that our employment costs reflect the estimated level of demand from November onwards,” Greggs said.

The bakery chain said sales had picked up in September after a “challenging” August, but remained at only 76.1% of last year’s levels.

Susannah Streeter, a senior investment and markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said Greggs needs to operate at 80% of 2019 sales to break even.

Watch: How takeaway chains are adapting to the ‘new normal’ of COVID-19

As well as hitting demand, COVID-19 has also affected Greggs’ supply chain. A small outbreak at a Leeds distribution centre closed the facility for a week last month and led to shortages at some Greggs in the region. Last week, a Greggs baking factory in Newcastle was hit by another small outbreak.

The company said disruptions like these would “be an ongoing challenge as we prioritise employee safety and play our part in managing COVID-related risks.”

Greggs said future trading activity “remains uncertain.”

Shares fell 4.2% in early trade:

“What is clear though is that Greggs, through no fault of its own, has had its world turned upside down,” Clive Black and Darren Shirley, analysts at stockbroker Shore Capital, wrote in a note on Tuesday.

“We continue to openly wonder how many Greggs stores will remain open when the firm is through the current crisis.”

Greggs shares sold-off after the trading update. Photo: Yahoo Finance UK
Greggs shares sold-off after the trading update. Photo: Yahoo Finance UK

Black and Shirley said new COVID-19 restrictions in the North-East, where Greggs is based, “will do little for October trading momentum.”

Despite all these challenges, Greggs said it planned to restart its store expansion programme. The company aims to open 20 new sites this year. Whiteside said the new openings will focus on locations that can be reached by car, such as roadside locations, retail parks, and big supermarkets.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak last week announced a new part-time work subsidy scheme as part of his Winter economy plan.

Whiteside said the new scheme would likely help in “one or two” parts of the business but would not provide the same “broad based” support for jobs that the furlough scheme allowed.

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