April 30, 2020 / 7:45 PM / 25 days ago

Fearing huge demand, UK baker Greggs postpones store reopenings

LONDON (Reuters) - British baker and takeaway food group Greggs (GRG.L) - famed for its sausage rolls and vegan snacks - has changed its mind about reopening 20 shops next week, fearing crowds of customers could gather, it said on Thursday.

Greggs is pictured on Newgate Street, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Newcastle, Britain, April 30, 2020. REUTERS/Lee Smith

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

Greggs had said on Monday it planned to reopen 20 shops in the Newcastle, north east England, area from next Monday in a trial to see if it can operate effectively with social distancing measures as the lockdown is eased.

However, it has now had a change of heart.

“Due to significant interest in our 20-shop trial, and the risk that excessive numbers of customers may plan to visit Greggs, we will now initially operate these trials behind closed doors in order to effectively test our new operational safety measures,” said a Greggs spokeswoman.

“We will continue to review this and will invite walk-in customers into our shops only when we can be confident of doing so in the controlled manner we intended.”

The reversal of the plan was first reported by the Financial Times.

Greggs had hoped that if feedback was positive from the trial it could move to phase two with 700 shops reopening.

It had 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 was that schools would reopen on June 1, allowing the phase two shops to reopen on June 8.

The final phase of its initial plan was to open all shops with new operational measures in place by July 1, which is when the government’s job retention furlough scheme is currently scheduled to end.

Reporting by Rama Venkat in Bengaluru and James Davey in London; Editing by Ken Ferris

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