Despite slow progress earlier this year, East-Lothian-based franchise chain Baguette Express has added 18 outlets to its estate in 2010, and has its eye on London locations.

"We have been encouraged by performance in the last six months, but up until May we were not getting new franchisees in. The banks had stopped lending, whatever they say. That left potential franchisees waiting to get funding approved. Thankfully that’s back on stream now," commented business development manager Jim Stewart.

A further four outlets are due to open this year, taking the total tally to 70, up by 10 on 2009.

The target is to have at least 150-plus outlets across the whole of the UK in three years’ time, with the first two London outlets set to open by Easter, potentially in Hounslow or Walthamstow, Stewart added.

Baguette Express has also started various trials with franchisees to maximise trade, he said. These include a new upmarket coffee and cakes range to bring in off-peak customers.

Stewart explained: "Baguette Express was seen as a lunch destination, but we want to change that. Coffee and cakes, such as high-quality muffins, are proving very profitable in the trial outlets, bringing people in at quieter times of the day."

The firm is also trialling an online and mobile ordering system at three of its outlets where customers can place and pre-pay for an order to pick up in-store and has been rolling out more stores in new formats including larger units, particularly those with seated areas in shopping centres, as it expands in England, said Stewart.

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