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As the Greggs juggernaut rumbles ever onward, there must surely be fewer and fewer people who haven't experienced what is now one of Britain's largest fast food chains, with the number of their shops running well into four figures. They call themselves the country's largest specialist bakers, but really that phrase makes them sound like some old-fashioned small concern, when in fact although they consisted of a single shop in Tyneside until the 1970s, they're now a massive business that would be better compared to the takeaway divisions of the likes of McDonald's or Subway.
With the exception of a few shops in areas of a historic nature - Brecon, for example - all Greggs outlets, and once rebranding is complete also their fast-disappearing Bakers Oven subsidiary, are instantly recognisable by their fascia. It's actually a rather strange design for a food shop - blue and orange may remind motor sport fans of the classic Gulf Oils sportscar livery, but the colours really don't go together that well. Still, with the in-your-face, sans serif company name in bold white, the signs are certainly instantly recognisable.
Let's get straight down to the main reason so many people go to Greggs: they're very cheap. Although prices have risen considerably, along with most food items, in the last few years, they remain quite a lot cheaper than their high street rivals, most of which *are* local or at least regional in nature. Most of Greggs' hot small pasties, for example, come in just under the pound mark, a state of affairs which I'm sure the company will seek to hold as long as possible. Sausage rolls are even cheaper, costing around 60p. No independent bakery is likely to be able to compete with that.
Greggs bakeries sometimes have their frontage open to the elements and are usually rather small, which can mean that queues are quite long and often snake out into the street. This can be a bit of a pain when the weather is poor, though service is generally fast so you don't get wet for long! I've never encountered a branch with an eat-in option, another thing which distinguishes them from many local bakeries, though that's not to say that *none* of their shops have one. There aren't many concessions to luxury inside: a common layout is to have a counter at the back of the shop and to one side, and a fridge containing sandwiches and drinks on the other side.
There are three main ranges of food sold. Firstly, the aforementioned hot savouries. These include such things as pasties, sausage rolls and steak bakes - though irritatingly my local branch at least now only sells Cornish pasties in large sizes. These are mostly quite tasty, though sometimes rather greasy: at least one survey has found Greggs' savouries to be higher in fat than those from some competing bakeries. The main problem, however, is that they are not reliably hot: sometimes they almost burn your hand off, sometimes they're barely lukewarm. I complained about this once and was told by the server that this was because of the batch nature of the cooking and was a reason Greggs was so cheap. Take that how you like!
Next are the sandwiches. Although Greggs seem to promote their plastic-packed sarnies and "oval bites" (named after their shape) quite heavily, I would suggest that a better buy would be their baguettes. These are made on the premises, and excellent value: a ham salad baguette - including tomatoes, something many more expensive chains can't seem to manage - can be had for around £2, and is filling, tasty and satisfying. It's a shame that they have to sell them in sealed plastic wraps, which stop them from "breathing" properly: if it's due to health and safety regulation, then why are Greggs able to sell savouries in paper bags?
Finally, there is a good selection of cold, sweet items such as buns, cakes and gingerbread men. More than the other two ranges, these do change somewhat according to local preferences, so you won't necessarily see the same cakes in a Greggs in Cardiff that you do in one in Lincoln. I like their iced doughnuts, which seem to be consistently well done. You can also buy a very limited range of cold drinks - basically, Coke-type fizz, fruit juice or Ribena - and usually coffee as well, though I'm not much of a coffee drinker so have never tried Greggs' offering.
As I mentioned at the start, it's reasonable to compare Greggs with a chain such as McDonald's. They don't offer gourmet food, and to be fair they don't pretend to. They offer something to fill you up (and perhaps, if you're lucky with the ovens, warm you up) at a low price. Although there are emerging concerns about whether independent bakeries can compete, for the moment most towns of any size will have at least one such competitor that you can use if quality is more important to you than speed and price. Greggs might perhaps be defined as the Tesco of the bakery world - with all that that implies, both good and bad.
(The answer to my title is, of course, "Push it down a hill.")
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I did a few mystery shops to Greggs & found them to be good.
paulpry118 29.04.2010 22:08
I think I should have shares in Greggs with the amount my Hubby spends in them at lunch times
fizzytom 26.04.2010 13:52
Although they are a north east company I'm really anti-Greggs. They are taking over the market and squeezing out independents. In the old days they did great bread but now the bread is pretty poor quality and they focus more on the pastries.