Greggs’ half year sales for 2021 were narrowly shy of those of 2019, reaching £546.2m.

The bakery retailer hailed a strong first half recovery, with a statutory pre-tax profit of £55.5m.

The 2,100-strong business reported like-for-like sales down 9.2% in the 26 weeks to 3 July 2021, in reflection of the challenging start to the year.

In the first quarter during full lockdown, like-for-like sales were 21.5% below the equivalent period in 2019.

In the second quarter, with the lifting of restrictions and re-opening of non-essential retail, Greggs reported 2.8% growth on a two-year like-for-like basis.

CEO Roger Whiteside said Greggs had shown its resilience, and expected its full year profit to be ahead of expectations.

The group opened 48 new shops in the half year, and made 11 closures, resulting in an estate of 2,115 shops as of 3 July 2021.

It expects to open around 100 net new shops in 2021, including 500 new jobs in the second half of the year.

Delivery is now available from 837 shops, with delivery sales representing 8.5% of company-managed shop sales in the first half of 2021.

Whiteside said while walk-in customer transactions in the second quarter were still below the level seen in 2019, they were compensated for by higher average transaction values and increases in delivery sales.

Shops in public transport hubs and large city centres continue to lag the overall group recovery rate, while suburban and high street shops do well.

The strongest locations continue to be shops accessed by car, including many operated by franchisees.

Whiteside said Greggs still sees the opportunity to expand its UK estate to at least 3,000 shops, presenting a multi-year growth path.

He said opportunities are now greater in number than they were before the pandemic, with relocations as well new openings part of a plan for multi-channel growth.

New shop design is supporting the collection of digital orders, and incorporates kitchen modifications to allow better product customisation and menu development, he said.

Meanwhile, the company said pre-ordering presented the opportunity to offer personalised choices, and will support Greggs’ ambition to grow sales in the evening.

Whiteside said with the level of recovery stronger than anticipated, Greggs expects full year profit to be “slightly ahead of our previous expectation”.