Bakery chain Greggs (GRG.L) is planning an aggressive expansion in London this year, despite an exodus of workers from the capital.
Roger Whiteside, chief executive of the northern chain, said Greggs would aim to open “as many as possible” when new stores in London in 2021.
“We’ve got our people out there looking for sites right now,” Whiteside told journalists on a call on Wednesday.
The expansion plans come despite a slump in activity in city centres caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The head of the Confederation of British Industry said last year that city centres like London risked becoming “ghost towns” as more and more people turned to working from home. Londoners have also been moving out of the capital in droves.
“There’s no question that the legacy of COVID will mean that city centres will be impacted over the long-term,” Whiteside said. “There’ll be less working in offices before and there’ll be less shopping than before.
“It doesn’t mean that city centres are therefore going to be empty places. History has shown that city centres are the driving centre of any economy. They will come back.”
Whiteside said the recent decline of city centres was presenting “opportunities” for Greggs, with rents falling and more prime locations becoming available. He highlighted the opening of two new sites in London’s St Pancras station at the end of last year. Whiteside said Greggs was currently “under represented” in central London, which helped explain the expansion drive.
The push into the capital is part of plans to open 100 new stores across the UK in 2021. Growth plans come despite Greggs warning on Wednesday that it was likely to make its first loss in history due to the COVID-19.
Whiteside said the pandemic has had an “enormous impact” on Greggs but said there were “reasons to be optimistic” given the rollout of vaccines.
“We want to make sure we come back stronger than we ever were,” he said.
Shares in Greggs rose over 8% on Wednesday, making it the best performing stock on the FTSE all-share index. While the chain warned of a loss, it was smaller than analysts had expected.
WATCH: Will interest rates stay low forever?