Greggs was founded by John Gregg as a Tyneside bakery in 1939. It opened its first shop in Gosforth, Newcastle upon Tyne in 1951.
When John died in 1964, the bakery was taken over by his son, Ian, assisted by his brother, Colin. Major expansion began soon after, including the acquisitions of other bakeries such as Glasgow-based Rutherglen in 1972, Leeds-based Thurston's in 1974, Broomfields the Bakers, London, Bowketts the Bakers in Kent, Tooks the Bakers (East Anglia) and Price's (Manchester) in 1976.
In May 1994, the company acquired the Bakers Oven chain of bakers' shops from Allied Bakeries. In August 1999, Greggs rebranded its 100 Braggs bakers shops as Greggs of the Midlands, and its Leeds based Thurston chain as Greggs of Yorkshire.
In December 2008, Greggs announced that all of its 165 Bakers Oven branded shops would be re-branded as Greggs shops so that all of the Bakers Oven shops could benefit from the Greggs national advertising campaign. In 2011, the company opened its 1,500th shop in York. In 2012, the company began selling frozen pasties through supermarket chain Iceland. In January 2013, Greggs replaced its CEO Ken McMeikan with Punch Taverns CEO Roger Whiteside. McMeikan left the firm for Brake Bros.
In November 2009, the company announced plans for a further 600 stores. In 2013, however, in the face of declining sales, Greggs stated that they were no longer intending to increase their number of stores. They aimed to refit 215 stores (about 12% of their estate) by the end of the year, as well as introducing new products such as pizza.
In 2013 Greggs began to transition out of the bakery market with the reasoning that it couldn't compete with supermarkets on that front. Instead, the company switched to focusing solely on the "food-on-the-go" market after discovering that 80% of its business was with that market. Part of this was having many of its stores open earlier and close later, in order to target those going to and coming back from work - expanding its breakfast menu to suit. Part of this change meant discontinuing the sale of bread and scones in many of its stores.
In August 2014, the company complained to Google when an "offensive" satirical parody of the Greggs logo was presented in search results as the actual company logo – falling afoul of imperfections in the "Google algorithm". The firm's lighthearted social media response was noted as a "lesson in Twitter crisis management".
The company has over 1,600 outlets, with many town and city centres having several stores. In May 2015 the chain had 1671 outlets, 9 regional bakeries and employed 20,000 staff. By March 2016, the number of outlets had grown to 1698. The company also sell some of its products – such as bakes, melts and pasties – through the supermarket chain Iceland.
In September 2011, Greggs opened its first Greggs Moment, a 104-seater coffee shop, in its home town of Newcastle on Northumberland Street. This store was then followed by one in the nearby MetroCentre in 2012, with five outlets in operation by February 2013.
In August 2013, the company announced that it would discontinue its attempt to enter the coffee market and instead focus on selling coffee from its existing stores.
In 2016, Greggs announced that it would be launching a delivery service on a trial basis, with plans to implement it nationwide if the trial proved to be successful.
The initial trial was held in Cobalt Business Park in Greggs’ home city of Newcastle, and the next trial phase encompassed the city’s other 29 Greggs stores.
The sausage roll is the company’s best selling product, selling more than 2 million units weekly. The sausage roll is a pastry snack, made with sheets of puff pastry wrapped around seasoned sausage meat.
Greggs sell sausage rolls freshly baked in store individually or in a pre-baked cold pack of 4 for customers to heat at home. The sausage rolls are also available for purchase at the supermarket chain Iceland, where they can be bought frozen to be cooked at home.
In September 2016, in response to rising obesity levels in the UK, Greggs introduced a range of sourdough pasties which are under 300 calories.
Greggs regularly introduces seasonal menus which include new product lines. In 2015, they began offering chicken curry soup and peri peri chicken flatbread as part of an autumn line.
In May 2016, the company launched a range branded as ‘Balanced Choice’ which offers healthy food options under 400 calories. This line offers a variety of pasta dishes, sandwiches, salads and soups and includes both meat-free products and products containing meat. The range also includes healthy snacks such as yoghurt pots and pots of fruit, and light drinks such as lemonade and fruit juices.
In October 2016, Greggs launched a new autumn menu featuring a line of burritos which includes a pulled beef burrito, a pulled chicken burrito and a vegetarian burrito. and their autumn/winter menu introduced a range of new burritos and gluten-free sweets. These updates were accompanied by a ‘revamp’ of the company’s snack range, with the introduction of packets of nuts and fruits and a change to own-label crisps.
Following the success of their previous health-conscious offerings, Greggs introduced a range of gluten-free products. The first of these were launched with the autumn/winter menu in 2016 and included a range of cakes, brownies and crispy rolls.
Greggs also offer ranges of items themed around annual festivities. Their Halloween product line includes fairy buns, cakes, biscuits, lattices and gingerbread kits. Their Christmas menu includes bakes, rolls, soups, toasties, baguettes, biscuits, muffins, buns and mince pies.
Greggs sell a variety of sandwiches which are available to purchase hot or cold.
Greggs offer a variety of breakfast items which are served until 11am. Bacon rolls and porridge were introduced to their stores in 2010 alongside continental items including croissants and pain au chocolat. In 2016, the company announced plans to expand their coffee menu with the addition of flat whites and an 'improved mocha'. The company also offers a 'breakfast meal deal' where customers can purchase a breakfast roll and hot drink together for £2.
Greggs' soups are part of the company's healthy eating menu. The soups are seasonal - the different types served throughout the year including chicken curry soup, spiced beef and rice soup, and cream of tomato soup.
In Channel 4’s ‘Tricks Of The Restaurant Trade’ it was discovered that Greggs' cream of tomato soup contained much more sugar than was disclosed in its nutritional information. While a 300g portion is said to have 5.7g of sugar, when tested the same amount came back with 25.4g: almost five times the amount on the package. Greggs, in response, said that they would "review the methodology used to determine nutritional data and would reformulate the recipe if required".
Greggs offer a range of pasties and bakes which are available to purchase hot in-store or cold in a multi-pack to be re-heated at home.
Greggs previously sold a macaroni pie, which was a water crust pastry case filled with macaroni pasta and a cream cheese sauce. It was sold for £1.50 in Scottish Greggs stores and was 262 calories per pie, one of Greggs less calorific products.
It was announced in 2015 that the company would be discontinuing the pie from its Scottish menu as Greggs was looking to "refresh" the pastries they offered.
The news of the removal of the pie angered many customers in Scotland, and campaigns soon began calling for Greggs to keep the pie. A huge campaign started on social media with Scots pleading Greggs to #savethepie. A petition was started which gained nearly 2,000 supporters, and the topic of the discontinuing of the pie was discussed in the Scottish parliament.
The campaign was not successful and the pie was permanently removed from Greggs shelves in June 2015.
In 2015, Greggs decided to discontinue bread from their shelves, with the company stating that the products weren’t selling as well as their sandwiches and other products. The company also mentioned that bread was still being sold a few stores and that they were now focusing on "food-on-the-go" products as customer habits are changing.
In July 2002, actress and model Milla Jovovich, a fan of the store and its pasties, said that she would be willing to become the "face of Greggs" in a new marketing campaign if the firm approached her. However, no such approach was made.
In February 2014, Greggs launched an electronic loyalty scheme app called "Greggs Rewards".
In March 2012, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne proposed to simplify the taxing of takeaway food. In the UK, most food intended to be cooked and eaten at home is zero-rated, meaning that businesses do not have to charge their customers the standard VAT on those products. Hot fast food, however, must charge 20% VAT. An exception to this rule can be made if it can be argued that a product was not intended to be served hot. Much of Greggs food falls under this exception, with the food being left to cool on a shelf after preparation rather than being kept hot or reheated upon purchase by customers.
With the pasty tax, any food besides freshly baked bread which is sold while above room temperature would be subject to the 20% VAT charge with no exception for intended serving temperature. Chairman of the company, Derek Netherton warned that such a tax would lead to "further unemployment, high street closures and reduced investment". Greggs participated in a campaign to reverse this decision, which became known as the "pasty tax" or "Pasty Gate".
An eight-part documentary series, called Greggs: More Than Meats The Pie, which goes behind the scenes of the bakery and all its areas, was broadcast on Sky1 and Sky1 HD in 2013. Sky revealed the documentary programme's first episode was Sky1's number one original show in April, with a final total of 1.27 million viewers.