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Sausage roll supremo Greggs to start reopening stores as UK lockdown eases

LONDON, April 27 (Reuters) - British baker and takeaway food group Greggs - famed for its sausage rolls and vegan snacks - plans to reopen 20 shops from next Monday in a trial to see it can operate effectively with social distancing measures as a coronavirus lockdown is eased.

All of Greggs' more than 2,050 shops have been closed since March 24 when the lockdown started even though the government allowed takeaway outlets to stay open.

Most of its employees were furloughed under the state job retention scheme and the group has tapped the government for finance to get it through the crisis.

"We want to play our part in getting the nation back up and running again so we are planning to conduct a limited trial with volunteers to explore how we can reopen our shops with new measures in place that keep our colleagues and customers as safe as we can when we re-open at scale," a Greggs spokeswoman said on Monday.

All of Britain's retailers are drawing up plans to emerge from the lockdown and some, such as home improvement retailer B&Q, reopened some stores last week.

Greggs' trial at shops, all in the Newcastle area in north east England where the firm is headquartered, will have a limited product range and shorter trading hours. It reckons it will need at least two weeks to evaluate the trial.

If feedback is positive, Greggs will move to phase two with 700 shops reopening.

It cautioned that phase two would only be possible if the government has taken a first step in relaxing the lockdown which could be to reopen schools, allowing more people to return to work.

Greggs' working assumption is that schools will re-open on June 1, allowing the phase two shops to reopen on June 8.

The final phase of its plan is to open all shops with new operational measures in place by July 1, which is when government furlough support is currently scheduled to end.

All its plans are subject to government announcements, it said.

Greggs enjoyed a stellar 2019 when profit jumped 27%, partly on the back of the phenomenal success of its vegan-friendly sausage roll.

But the coronavirus crisis has severely jolted its prospects and its shares are down 23% so far in 2020.

"We are especially concerned...about Greggs, where there are severe trading peaks each day and the restrictions on shoppers/store and social distancing in the queue may make life extremely difficult. More working from home won't help either," said analysts at Peel Hunt. (Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Angus MacSwan)