What a map of the UK's 1,650 branches of Greggs can tell us about the British high street

Pick one. Image: Greggs.

We at CityMetric know you love maps. But when we came across a map showing all the branches of bakery chain Greggs, across the UK (we all have hobbies, OK?), we thought it was enough to simply share it on social media and wonder at the sheer number of them:

But then the questions started rolling in. Why only one in Northern Ireland? Why so many in northern cities like Glasgow, Newcastle and Manchester? Why none in Devon and Cornwall? And what, exactly, is a second-hand Greggs:

Readers, we took it upon ourselves to find out. 

(What follows is a very in-depth look at the popular high street bakery chain, including, arguably, excessive amounts of detail. If you don't actually like Greggs, you might want to leave now.) 

First things first. Why are there so many Greggs branches? 

According to Greggs' head office, despite constant headlines about the "death of the British high street", there are around 1,650 Greggs shopfronts in Britain.

To put that in context, that's nearly double the number of Starbucks (according to Statista, 842 as of this year) or McDonald's (around 1,200). Somewhat surprisingly, Greggs is only pipped by coffee shop Costa, which has over 1,800 branches, and sandwich shop Subway, which opened its 2000th in February 2015.

So what's the secret? As far as I can tell, part of it is that Greggs isn't afraid to open multiple branches in very close proximity. Take the centre of Glasgow:

Or Manchester:

Greggs specialises in food to go, and it's apparently successfully calculated that for customers, this means the closer the better - high street cafes are now so plentiful that even that extra 200 metres could prompt a customer to choose Pret instead. It also manages its own supply chain, "from production to distribution to point of sale". This means that opening more stores close together makes economic sense - the Greggs lorry is already coming that way anyway.

Most Greggs stores are directly owned, not franchised - but they have a small number of franchised branches in "closed trading environments" like universities or "travel hubs".

The brand is also fine with opening up on non-high streets and opening up franchises in train stations, perhaps in reaction to the reduced footfall on high streets. On its website, the company states:

A high proportion of our openings are in areas away from traditional high streets as we diversify our portfolio in line with market trends.  Working with franchise partners we have extended the Greggs offer to previously inaccessible travel and convenience locations.

I asked a Greggs spokesperson why there were so many in Glasgow and Manchester in particular, and was told that it's simply a timing issue:

Greggs has traded longer in these major cities than most of the UK and consequently have a more mature shop estate in these areas.

Soon, all British cities will be stuffed to the gills with Greggs. You heard it here first. 

Why only one in Northern Ireland?

Roughly the same answer as above: the first branch there only just opened, but Greggs is planning another within the month, and more soon.

From the Greggs spokesperson, who was growing increasingly perplexed by my questions by this point: 

Northern Ireland has been a potential target for Greggs for some time but England, Scotland and Wales has been our primary focus. We were delighted to open our first site in NI with Applegreen on the M2 just north of Belfast and are opening a second store with Applegreen at Crankhill, Belfast on the 11th December 2015. We would expect more openings in the future.

What is a "second hand Greggs"?

These bakery outlets sell day-old pasties and pastries for a very reduced price. The stock in the standard Greggs shops is baked onsite, so the fare in the second-hand shops is still relatively fresh. 

Here's the one in Barry, Wales:

Image: Google.

Why so few in the southwest?

Our instinct here was that people living in the home of the pasty might not be so convinced by Greggs' versions (slightly flaccid sausage rolls, pasties shaped like squares) of their traditional foodstuffs. The Greggs spokesperson was a little reticent on this point, but implied that folks in Devon are slightly more sympathetic to the brand than the fiercely traditional Cornish: 

There are currently no stores in Cornwall. We are focussed at the moment on extending our reach into more parts of Devon.

Sorry Cornwall. No Greggs for you. 

Any other trade secrets?

I also hear, though Greggs head office hasn't confirmed this, that the store opts for relatively short leases with break clauses, as opposed to long leases or property ownership. As a result, it actually closes stores relatively frequently, perhaps to follow the pastry-eaters to a better location. 

The brand has also moved into breakfast service, and earlier opening hours, to compete with the breakfast offerings at other cafes and shops. Recently, it launched a bake-at-home range, sold through Iceland supermarkets, so you can make bakes in the comfort of your own kitchen: 

Image: author's own.

Why do people like it so much? 

In 2013, Ian Gregg, founder of Greggs, released a kind of business autobiography called  BREAD: the story of Greggs. It contains many interesting facts about the brand, including that, when asked what they missed most about home, British armed forces said "Greggs". According to the Metro, said survey resulted in Greggs providing catering for an army base in Germany in 2012. 


Also, as part of a restructuring a few years ago, the brand appointed special managers for each food category to manage recipes, promotions and pricing,so you could literally be the "cake manager" for Greggs. Dream job. 

In the book's introduction, Ian Gregg himself puts forward his own suggestions for the brand's success: 

Perhaps customers identify with a business that still retains old-fashioned values, that seems local rather than global and doesn't put shareholders before customers and staff.

Or, perhaps, it's more straightforward than that:

Maybe it's simply because the sandwiches, sausage rolls and doughnuts taste great, are good value, and are a treat most people can afford.

As someone who would rank a £1.40 Greggs Chicken Bake among her top 10 all-time favourite meals, I'd argue it was the latter.

Like this sort of nonsense? Why not like us on Facebook?

 
 
 
 

American policing never adjusted to the decades-long decline in urban violence

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Princeton University’s Patrick Sharkey is an almost impossibly prolific academic, regularly publishing an array of well-regarded studies on everything from social distancing to neighbourhood change. But in recent years he’s become best known for his work on criminal justice and law enforcement – topics that have risen to the top of America’s policy agenda.  

Sharkey’s last book, Uneasy Peace, is about the dramatic decline in crime rates in American cities, what caused it, and what is needed to sustain it. Published in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement’s emergence in 2014, it deftly analyzes issues that are again roiling America after the killing of George Floyd. 

Uneasy Peace, and the work Sharkey has published since Floyd’s murder, argues for a massive campaign to address violence in American cities. But that does not mean flooding the streets with more police officers. CityMetric spoke with Sharkey about the little-known factors behind America’s great crime decline, the need for massive public investment, and what community policing looks like without the police.

Why did violent crime in the US, and in American cities particularly, fall so sharply between the early 1990s and the early 2010s? 

Violence from the late 1960s through the early 1990s was at an extreme level. There was a crisis of violence throughout much of urban America, particularly in the big cities. Then something happened in the 1990s. It happened because both political parties took on crime and violence as central issues in their platforms. Bill Clinton ran on a platform that he was tougher on crime than the Republicans had been. The whole country saw violence as a national crisis.


What happened in the early 1990s is there was a large-scale mobilisation to retake public spaces and make cities safe. That consisted of several parts. There was a really large-scale effort to bolster police forces, to invest in more aggressive tactics of policing, to go after gang activity, to shut down drug markets.

At the same time there was a large-scale expansion of local organisations that really mobilised to make their communities safer: after-school programs, religious organizations, community centres, neighbourhood groups. These kinds of organisations expanded in a major way.

What I find is that the expansion of those kinds of community organisations stands alongside the expansion of police forces as components of why violence fell. They combined with expansion of video surveillance, camera systems, and private security. All these things happened at roughly the same time, and public spaces transformed. That's why violence fell so dramatically, beginning in the early 1990s.

The crime decline benefited everybody, making urban areas safer, and convincing more middle- and upper-income people to move back to cities. But you argue that those who live in the most violent neighbourhoods benefited the most, because violent crime declined most in those areas. What has changed in these communities as they've seen less crime?

The most obvious benefit is that tens of thousands of lives were saved, with the greatest impacts experienced by Black men. We found that for most groups, life expectancy wouldn't change that much if homicide never fell. But for Black men, there was an enormous change: the life expectancy of Black men rose by almost a year due purely to the drop in homicide mortality. That is a change as large as any public health advancement over the past several decades.

Then there are direct consequences for academic achievement. The places where violence dropped the most are places where statewide test scores rose the most. And children who were in places that became less violent over the course of their childhood were much more likely to rise up in the income distribution in adulthood and to make more income as adults.

Violence has a long reach. There's a direct effect of violence on every institution, every member, every child within that community. It damages kids’ cognitive development and academic functioning. So, when violence falls, kids are able to learn, kids are able to focus in school if they're not thinking about the threat of violence.

Then it has an indirect impact because life returns when a community becomes safer. Businesses start to set up shop, families invest in that neighbourhood, it becomes a vibrant place again, and that means more jobs are there, that means more opportunities are nearby. That changes the possibilities for a child as they near adulthood and enter the labour market. All this translates into improved economic outcomes later in adulthood.

You point to research that shows aggressive policing and imprisonment has been part of the story of America's great crime decline, but at immense human cost. You note that while every other kind of violence has fallen since the early 1990s, the rates of police violence remain consistent.

Why hasn't police violence responded to what's happened everywhere else?

We invested heavily in an aggressive style of policing. We asked police departments to go take over city streets and reduce violence by any means necessary. That was a conscious policy decision made in the 1980s and 1990s. It was supported by most Americans. Not everyone, but it had support across the political spectrum. It had support from Black and white Americans. Not universal support, but it did have strong support. 

What has changed over time is that as violence fell, as city streets became safer, the strategies that police departments use didn’t change.

I lay out two policy questions toward the end of the book. The first is how can we make sure that violence keeps falling? The second one is how can we do it with a new approach that doesn't rely on the prison system and the aggressive policing of the past few decades. That's the challenge right now: What's the next model?

What do you make of calls to defund or even abolish the police? In your book, you say that every video of police brutality makes it harder to reimagine a new role for the police. Did the George Floyd video make it impossible?

It might be impossible. There are lots of neighbourhoods where the institution has lost all credibility, and that happened a long time ago. More people are coming to that conclusion now.

We need a new model to deal with the challenge of violence. If we pursue a policy agenda that is designed to simply exact revenge against the police and try to destroy this institution, we're going to leave cities vulnerable. If we pursue an agenda that just attempts to dismantle the police before an alternative institution is ready to take responsibility, then we run the risk of destabilising neighbourhoods. That's my biggest concern.

Over a longer term, I think the role of the police should be dramatically reduced. We have great evidence that local community organisations, in combination with residents, are at least as if not more effective at controlling violence. They've just never been given the same resources, the same commitment.  


(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

At the end of your book, you call for a “war against violence.” To fight that war, investment is needed if these groups are going to take the place of the police. But we seem to be embarking upon a new age of austerity. What could the ramifications for urban violence be if the US Congress fails to support city and state governments?

Austerity is not inevitable, but it doesn't look like this Congress is preparing to invest in state and local governments. It's not inevitable that we're going to see a period of fiscal crisis in cities. That's a policy choice but if that happens, if city budgets are reduced and funding for local community organizations drops, we'll probably see a rise in violence.

When cities and communities are abandoned, that's what happens. That's why violence rose the first time. In the early 1970s, the federal government abandoned its support of central cities, the power structure of state governments shifted toward suburbs. If funding for cities and local organisations falls, we should expect a rise in violence. 

You write about a newer institution in Australia’s Aboriginal communities that patrols the streets, unarmed, to defuse situations and address issues – everything from domestic disputes to public drunkenness – in place of the police.  But the role of this community patrol, and neighbourhood groups in the US, is about prevention. Is there a role for law enforcement in ensuring that those who commit murder and violence are punished?

Yes. I think the model that we need to work toward is one where a different set of actors are responsible for overseeing public spaces and making sure everybody is safe, everyone is supported within those communities. Then the police play a secondary role.

That means when there's a mental health crisis, you have trained mobile response teams who are the first to respond to those incidents. Patrol of a neighbourhood should not be carried out by police officers, it should be carried out by advocates, by neighbours who are well trained and genuinely concerned for the well-being of their neighbours. At the same time, I argue that there is a role for police. In places where gun violence is extreme, it's potentially harmful to relieve the police of all responsibilities. There are weapons crimes where I think the police should still be the first to respond. There is a role for police because gun violence is so extreme in the US.

The biggest change, which is not often mentioned in these discussions, is in patrol. The people who are out in public space, making sure that no problems emerge, making sure that kids are safe, that they're getting where they need to go. Making sure that if someone comes home from the late shift, they have someone they can see in public space and know that they're okay, know that they'll be safe walking home.

That should not be police officers. There are too many communities where the level of mistrust is too severe. It should be other members of the community who are trained professionals, whose job is to be a pro-social presence in public space. That's one major change that I don't think is mentioned enough in these debates about who should do what. Who should be a pro-social presence in public space?

You cite research that suggests that despite the crime spike between the late 1960s and the early 1990s, the second half of the 20th century was less violent than the first half. So despite recent crime spikes in some cities, and what appears to be a surge in domestic violence related murders during the pandemic, does that mean we are living in one of the most peaceful periods in American history?

Yeah, without a doubt. The data before 1950 are not great. But the best evidence we have suggests that violence has been falling over the history of our country. There have been periods with more and less violence, but without a doubt, we are living in one of the safest periods in US history.

We need to focus a great deal of attention on violence. It is the fundamental challenge of cities. But along with urgency, we have to be aware of progress that's happened over time. New York is going to have a higher level of violence this year, in all likelihood, than it had a couple of years ago. That's something we need to maintain focus on. New Yorkers are dying.

But we also have to remember that there were 2,200 murders [annually] in New York in the early 1990s. There will be somewhere between 300 and 400 this year. That’s urgent, but let's also celebrate progress and make sure we have an accurate perception of the level of violence and that we don't exaggerate short-term fluctuations.

Jake Blumgart is a staff writer at CityMetric.