Greggs chief Whiteside delighted by rapid growth in Northern Ireland
High street food chain Greggs has had a "fantastic response" in Northern Ireland, boss Roger Whiteside has insisted.
Speaking during a visit to one of his company's new Belfast branches, on Donegall Square West, he refused to be drawn on reports that the firm planned to open 50 locations here.
However, he did admit that the business made a positive move by launching a franchise at the Applegreen service station on the M2 in April last year, with others at new service stations set to follow in the near future.
"We took a bold decision and Applegreen really paved the way for us," Mr Whiteside said.
"We saw that there was demand for the Greggs brand. We thought, 'We can do this one of two ways. We can come over and do one shop and put our toe in the water, or (since we have been) encouraged enough by what we have seen at Applegreen, we go for it'."
Greggs now has 11 branches across Northern Ireland, including several in Belfast, and further locations, including in Bangor, Banbridge and other areas, are planned for the future.
Mr Whiteside said that with the growth of the business, the chain was competing against the large multiples and big-name coffee giants.
"The coffee shops lead with coffee and we lead with food," he explained.
"You will see the coffee shops trying to improve their food offer, and we are trying to build our coffee credentials.
"We have been very successful at that because it is one item that you have to get better.
"But if you are trying to improve your food credentials, you have a major challenge on your hands."