Among the depressing outlook on the British High Street is a success story that took everyone by surprise. Greggs, the 80-year-old baking chain has hit reset, shaken up their offering and continue to buck all trends.

There’s a lot to be learned from this high street staple, and it starts with an unlikely lesson inspired by the humble sausage roll.

Veganism is on the rise and is a greater part of the collective consciousness of the nation than ever

Concern mounts over global warming, while consumers as a whole have generally become more conscious of their own health and the impact their choices have on the environment and animals. Put together, many have turned to plant power – either fully or partially. One in three people now purchase plant-based milk, while more than a quarter of all evening meals in the UK are vegan or vegetarian. In response, more and more brands and businesses are getting on board with this shift – there’s McDonald’s vegan-friendly happy meals, restaurant chain TGIF’s bleeding vegan burgers, and even Ben & Jerry’s that now offer a completely dairy-free ice cream range. Beyond Meat Inc., the maker of the Beyond Burger, which is sold at Whole Foods and TGIF, just raised nearly a quarter of a billion dollars to grow its line of plant-based meats valuing the company at almost $1.5 billion.

Among them all, the clear run-away success of 2019 is an accolade reserved for Greggs…

A vegan sausage roll – what could be simpler?

And yet this product has just contributed toward an almighty jump in sales that have surged by 9.6% in the seven weeks to 16 February 2019. Social platforms were set ablaze, mainstream media coverage included dinnertime news and all major newspapers. So popular have they been that the baking stalwart has struggled to keep up.

The launch wasn’t without its issues – namely stores that lacked the right green handled tongs to avoid cross-contamination. And of course, this gigantic jump wasn’t solely down to Greggs’ vegan sausage role; it was part of a long succession of changes that had taken place since Roger Whiteside took up the role of Greggs CEO in 2013 (previous to which there were slumping sales and freefalling pre-tax profits).

After taking up the boardroom baton, Whiteside set about repositioning Greggs. But instead of taking aim at an entirely different target, he focused on serving their existing customers better by moving away from being a baker and towards food-to-go…

“People were sceptical and said we would lose our heritage if we changed [from a baker], but we could see from consumer insight that over 80% of visits were for food-on-the-go. It wasn’t as if we had to convert our customers, we just had to do a better job of serving them”.

–        Roger Whiteside – CEO of Greggs

As for the vegan sausage roll, which arguably did target a different customer group, the idea didn’t come from Greggs themselves, but from an unserved target market. PETA, the animal rights group, set up a petition for a vegan-friendly version of Greggs’ meaty sausage roll, which attracted 20,000 signatories. And contrary to popular conceptions, the roll was actually the second addition to the Greggs’ line up to sate the appetite of hungry vegans, vegetarians, and flexitarians. The first was the Mexican Bean Wrap, which launched in 2018. So blown away were vegans with the bean wrap, that it won the PETA Vegan Food Award.

Not only has the vegan sausage roll brought in new customers, it has brought Greggs right into the heart of public discussion, garnering significant attention and publicity. They say that ‘any publicity is good publicity’ – whether this is true or not can be debated, but for Greggs it doesn’t matter. The publicity they have garnered has been overwhelmingly positive and there’s no doubt that this has been a successful step in Greggs’ attempt to re-position their brand, whilst continuing to deliver what their existing customer base wants.

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