Greggs, the leading high street bakery chain, said this morning it was “encouraged” by improving like-for-like sales (LFLs) - however the key metric for the group remained in negative territory.

The company said its new strategy to focus on food-to-go would help ensure it returned to growth in that area.

Unveiling an interim management statement for the 13 weeks to 28 September 2013, the baker said that LFLs were down by 0.5% and were running at -2.1% for the year. Total sales for the period were up by 3.6%, up by 3.5% for the year, but this increase had been largely driven by new openings.

Whiteside said: “We are encouraged by the recent improvement in like-for-like performance, although with consumer disposable incomes still under pressure, we remain cautious.

“Cost inflation is in line with our expectations and the group’s cash position remains strong. Our overall outlook for the full year is unchanged. We have made good progress in developing our strategic plan and our focus on the ‘Bakery food-on-the-go’ format. Customers are enjoying the contemporary new look, easy-to-navigate range and the provision of seating wherever possible.”

It added 20 new shops during the period and closed a further 17 shops, taking its net openings for the year so far to 22. Greggs said it now expects no net increase in shop numbers over the year as a whole - as the anticipated 70 new openings will be matched by closures.

As of 28 September 2013, Greggs had a total of 1,693 shops, including 25 franchised operations.