Background to a baking giant

Morpeth rotary Club

By The Newsroom
Friday, 13th January 2017, 2:10 pm
Gay Penn of the Greggs family, who gave a talk to Morpeth Rotary Club
Gay Penn of the Greggs family, who gave a talk to Morpeth Rotary Club

Rhona Dunn asked Gay Penn to talk about her family business of Greggs.

Dad was Jack Gregg and she was the baby of the family, with big brother Ian and middle brother Colin. Great, great grandfather William Gregg lived in Scremerston. He was a miner until 1891, then became a yeast merchant. His son George took over the business when he died.

The family had moved to Newcastle by 1909. Her father, John Watson Gregg, continued the business. At first he used a bike to make deliveries, but later got a van and began to supply bread and confectionary as a sideline.

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Dad went off to the Second World War and mum was left to run the business. It did not make enough to keep the family so she also worked as a shop assistant, a model in Fenwick’s French salon, made hats and cut hair.

By 1946 they had two vans. Father began to supply bakeries. In 1951 they bought their first shop in Gosforth High Street for £7,750 and were registered as a company.

Mother developed the catering side by chance. People would ask if products could be delivered for events.

Gay helped in the business. Colin left to train for teaching and Ian trained as a solicitor.

The business took over Gosforth Assembly Rooms and opened Piccolo restaurant, serving afternoon teas, with dances and functions in the evenings. In 1953 it had a surplus of £69.15s.6d.

In 1963 father was diagnosed with cancer. They decided they would not have enough income if they sold the business so it was agreed that the sons should qualify, then come and help. In 1964 father died.

The company took over a pork shop in Longbenton and did more catering. It had around 15 staff and two vans, with a turnover of £70,000.

Gay got a job as a junior secretary at the NFU, then Blythman the vets. In 1965 she joined the business, where she went through all departments for training.

They opened more shops and bought one with a plan to build a new bakery behind at the cost of £100,000. They moved to the premises at Christon Road, Gosforth, in 1967, and sold the freehold of their first shop to The Travel Bureau. Gay managed the dispatch department.

In 1970 Greggs had seven shops on Tyneside. Mother died in 1972.

They took over Price Brothers in Glasgow, bakeries in Manchester and Leeds, and opened their 40th shop on Tyneside. Greggs has prospered ever since, although none of the family has been in the business since 1977.

It became a PLC in 1984, with six divisions and 250 shops. In 1987 it moved to Fawdon. In 1994 it took over Baker’s Oven, and in 2011 the 1,500th shop was opened. It now has 20,000 staff, 1,700 shops and six million customers, with more outlets in the UK than McDonalds.

The Greggs Foundation has given over £20million to worthy causes. A story of the business is in a book called Bread, written by Ian.

Rhona gave a vote of thanks, saying Greggs was known for its values.