There was a huge drop in demand for fuel as traffic volumes fell by 80% during lockdown when people stayed at home and abided by travel restrictions.

Applegreen - the largest fuel forecourt operator in the country, and the second largest in the UK - remained profitable in the three months to the end of June, and traded ahead of its Covid expectations.

"We had to keep all our operating costs as tight as possible and drive the sales in our local service stations where we could," said Chief Operating Officer, Joe Barrett.

Customers stayed local and purchased staples like milk, bread and newspapers, while sales of barbecues were up during the fine weather of April and May.

Applegreen's branded food was hardest hit, especially in the UK, where sales dropped.

"I'm delighted to say that food sales are back to -15% / -20% to where they were this time last year," Mr Barrett said.

Applegreen temporarily reduced headcount by more than 4,800 employees during lockdown. 

"Not all are back to work," he said. "We're back to around 75%. Most of those who are not back are in the UK business where motorway sites are only just open since July 4. We anticipate that we should be back to our full strength by the end of the year or first quarter of next year." 

The company employs 11,500 people between Ireland, the UK and the United States.

Senior executives in Applegreen took paycuts during the crisis, which Mr Barrett said were extended until the end of August and will then be reviewed.

"We'll just see how all our operating costs are and how the business is performing but it's similar to what happened during the financial crisis where you just have to cut the cost to match the income coming into the business."

Applegreen is celebrating 28 years in business by reducing the price of fuel to 24.7 cent per litre for an hour in selected service stations today.

The company is also committed to the green economy. "We're the largest electric vehicle charging operator in the UK. We've the first hydrogen service station in New York," Mr Barrett said. "We're actively adopting new energy proposals throughout all our locations where it's appropriate."