british food

Welcome to the Underground World of Discount Greggs

Often located in low income areas, Greggs Outlets sell day-old bread and pastries for cheap. As a student, I'd pick up a bag of sausage rolls and cake for less than a fiver.

by Rachael Healy
23 October 2018, 2:43pm

When I moved away from Newcastle to start university, one of the things I missed the most was Greggs. The bakery chain, known for its sausage rolls and cheap coffee, has outlets nationwide but originated in the North East of England. As such, the region has a fierce loyalty to Greggs. Newcastle is home to an estimated 9.9 Greggs stores for every 100,000 people, leading it to be crowned the “Greggs capital of Britain.”

So, when I returned to Newcastle between semesters, a visit to Greggs became a kind of ritual. A friend of mine had moved to the city’s West End and it was here that I discovered the ultimate cure for my Greggs cravings: the Greggs Outlet.

Greggs Outlets stock day-old breads, pastries, and cakes from standard Greggs bakeries; as well as products that are slightly misshapen or broken. Kind of like a seconds shop but with steak bakes. My friend and I would pick up iced cakes, Belgian buns, and sausage rolls for £1 each. As students in part-time work, the cheapness of the “Discount Greggs” was a big draw, but there was also a novelty in the fact that this place even existed. There are countless Greggs around Newcastle, but only the Greggs Outlet let us fill a bag with food for less than a fiver.

1540300698698-exterior-angle2
The Greggs Outlet in Newcastle's West End. All photos by the author.

From the outside, the West End Greggs Outlet doesn’t look like a standard Greggs bakery. The sign is red instead of the ubiquitous blue, orange, and grey; and the furnishings are sparser—no seating, no counter, no flashy lighting. Here, there’s nothing between you and the pasties.

Inside, I meet three customers who have travelled from Consett (a town around 15 miles from Newcastle) and leave with five full bags of bread and pastries between them. Delivery drivers James and Paul rush in for doughnuts—a request from a colleague who heard they’d be coming this way. Diane, 68, visits every time she sees her doctor on this side of town.

“I come for the bread,” she tells me. “I always check if they’ve got the bloomer. I freeze it and have a couple of slices a week.”

1540300825084-bloomers-close
Discounted white bloomer loaves on sale in the Greggs Outlet.

I also meet Amanda, who has travelled to the outlet from South Shields. “I’m here about twice a month,” she says. “I make an effort to come to this shop—I’ve been coming here for probably 20 years. It’s a friendly little store filled with proper bargains. It’s a gem in the neighbourhood.”

Nineteen-year-old college student Jasmine and her friends Faith, Kassia, and Parker come in “about once a week” for caramel offcuts, choosing to walk up the hill to the outlet, rather than visit a closer location.

“It provides us with something we like anyway, but better deals,” says Jasmine.

1540300801450-carameloffcuts-close
Caramel offcuts, misshapen caramel shortbread pieces.

Caramel offcuts and “savouries” are two popular choices at the Greggs Outlet. Savouries—Greggs-speak for pasties—include bakes (chicken and sweet potato; corned beef; vegetable; cheese and onion; steak) and melts (sausage, bean, or cheese). They usually sell out by midday.

While there are currently 1,912 Greggs stores across the UK, there are only 11 Greggs Outlets selling discounted food. The West End branch, established in 1974, was the first.

“Back then, they were called ‘second-day stores,’” Raymond Reynolds, Greggs business development and property director, tells me. “Given that all of our shops are selling daily fresh products, we have at the end of the day some level of unsold food, which could be used to feed people.”

1540300912499-SausageRolls-close2
1540300894677-IMG_0207

Newcastle Central constituency, where the West End outlet is situated, reports lower average earnings than other parts of Newcastle. It’s the same at nearby Greggs Outlets in Howdon and Hendon in Sunderland, two other low income areas.

“Ian Gregg [son of founder John] decided that there were areas of the city that perhaps would benefit [from a Greggs Outlet]," Reynolds explains. "Slightly more deprived areas where people have a bit less money in their pocket.”

Reynolds describes the outlets as “a resource for the local community,” but they are also a way for the chain to cut the amount of food sent to landfill.

“It was a mechanism for making sure that food that could’ve been consumed was actually getting to people, rather than into the waste stream,” he says. “That’s remained the philosophy.”

1540301024764-GoogleImageWestgateRoadStore
The West End Greggs Outlet opened in 1972, when it was known as a "second-day store."

Food waste has become a pressing issue in recent years, with chains like Pret a Manger giving excess stock to the homeless and supermarkets pledging last month to halve food waste by 2030. Food sharing apps like Too Good To Go and Olio have also risen in popularity, helping unwanted food reach people who need it.

As well as distributing surplus food through its outlets, Greggs gives food to small charities and food banks, and has managed to increase the amount it donates by 500 percent over the past four years.

1540301241220-scones-close

“If a charity can pick up from the store at the end of the day, and if the store has got food at the end of the day, we let that happen,” says Raymond. “We’ve got around 900 small charities collecting food. The more charities we can encourage to engage with us, the better.”

This won't mean the end of the Greggs Outlet, though. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that there’s room for both,” says Raymond. “I think there’s a strong future for [the outlet stores].”

Which is good news for the customers of the West End branch. Over the course of my visit, I meet college students, builders, young couples, pensioners, and extended families in store—all here for a bargain. Rob, a local postal worker, pops in with a colleague for sausage rolls and tomato soup.

1540300737952-baguettes
Unsold baguettes and bread rolls are sold at the outlet shop to prevent food waste.

“It’s amazing value—if you go to proper Greggs it can be quite pricey, but all the stuff here is exactly the same,” he says. “I’ve been coming in for four years. Would miss it if it wasn’t here!”

“You get real bargains,” says Katrina, another customer. “The price is ridiculous!” adds Kelly.

I also meet 60-year-old Alan, who has been a Greggs Outlet patron since 1974, and used to pick up goods for his parents. He now pops in once a month for his favourites: chicken and steak bakes.

1540301114674-320shopping-bench2

“We’ve got a lot of regulars,” says Pearl, who has worked at the outlet for two years. “You get to know them. There’s a man that comes in every day for savouries, and one woman comes in every morning for bread. One regular has been coming since it opened. He used to come in for his mam’s bread when he was little. Now he rings ahead to see if we’ve got any in.”

Pearl has also noticed more people making frequent visits recently.

“We’re finding people coming in more often than they used to, so we’ve got more regulars now,” she says. “They love us—how could they not!”