The UK’s biggest bakery retailers are defying the tough economic conditions with the overall number of new outlets opened by the leading 75 companies (by store numbers) up 6.9% in the past year.

The number of shops selling baked goods as the primary element of their food offering saw a net increase of over 500 outlets in 2010 compared to 2009, according to BB75 2011 British Baker’s influential league table of the top 75 bakery retailers.

Greggs remained the largest player in the market with a total of 1,479 outlets, up from 1,419, closely followed by Subway with 1,420 stores. Coffee chains Costa, Starbucks and Caffè Nero filled the remaining places in the top five, with Costa opening 100 new stores in 2010 more than any other company on the BB75 list.

While the large national chains dominated the top spots, regional craft bakeries are also proving more than resilient. Store numbers among the top 10 craft bakeries (excluding Greggs), such as Sayers and Coopland & Son, grew by 4.7% up 33 outlets to a total of 733.

Mike Holling, chairman of the National Association of Master Bakers and sales manager for Birds of Derby, said the figures were encouraging. "Programmes like the Great British Bake-off and The Apprentice have helped raise the profile of high street bakers. Craft bakeries are finally getting the attention they deserve," he said. "Some businesses have fallen by the wayside in the past year, but other craft chains have stepped in to take over those shops."

He added that craft bakeries needed to differentiate their businesses from national chains by concentrating on the quality of their products, specialising in items such as confectionery and providing excellent customer service. "Greggs has an interesting business model, but there are still opportunities for craft bakers to exploit, such as alternative locations close to industrial sites or within the confines of a supermarket. We must also maximise regional loyalties," he said.

The advice would seem timely, with Greggs planning to open 80 shops in 2011. "2011 will be very similar to 2010, with tough trading, but there are good growth opportunities," said Greggs chief executive Ken McMeikan.

>>Greggs adds 18 outlets to extend BB75 lead