Greggs officially wins the internet with social media strategy for their new vegan sausage rolls

Greggs said profits will be at least £88m in 2019, slightly higher than previously predicted. The results come after a huge PR victory for Greggs with the release of its vegan sausage rolls of 3rd January.

Greggs announced the arrival of their latest product to be added to their range of baked goods with a hilariously overdramatised video that mimicked that of an apple advert that reveals the latest iPhone.

The response to the video on social media was spectacular, and there was a huge amount of media coverage of the subsequent debate over veganism and so-called political correctness. The video received 5 million views, and people have been vehemently discussing the product on twitter for a number of days now. The launch coincided with Veganuary, where people commit to not eating any animal products for the whole month.

The introduction of the product marks an effort by Greggs to expand its client base, whilst maintaining the loyalty of their longstanding working-class customers.

Preceding the release of the vegan sausage rolls, Piers Morgan sent out a tweet to his millions of followers saying “Nobody is waiting for a vegan bloody sausage, you PC-ravaged clowns”.

Digital Brand Manager of Greggs Neil Knowles, writing from their Newcastle headquarters, replied within a few minutes later saying “Oh hello Piers, we’ve been expecting you.”

This friendly, but slightly cutting tone indicates the self-confident, witty marketing approach that would govern their social media strategy for the campaign, which was met by a flood of responses from both supporters and non-supporters alike.

As the demand for vegan food rises in the UK with more and more people adopting the plant-based diet, an increasing number of brands are catering to meet their needs. Last year PETA started an online petition calling for a vegan Greggs sausage roll which was signed by more than 20,000 people, which would suggest Piers that indeed there are a number of people waiting for a ‘vegan bloody sausage’.

Piers went a step further in trolling the product when he ate a Gregg’s vegan sausage roll live on Good Morning Britain and preceded to spit it out into a bin. He labelled it a ‘complete con’ and ‘Gastronomic appropriating’.

Piers Morgan often criticises the “snowflake” generation for complaining and wining about menial things, so it was ironic therefore that he was so sensitive to and outraged by the existence of the vegan sausage roll. Many would not have known about the product had it not been for his very public reaction to it, so I am sure Greggs are very grateful for his predictability.

The result?

Hundreds hailed the baked snack and raved about its taste, and a number of vegans thanked Greggs for acknowledging their needs. Additionally, many prospective buyers were in despair at branches being sold out, as well as asking for more shops to be added to the 950 (roughly half of Greggs total stores) that stock it.

Thanks to the £1 product, Greggs share price risen by 100p to £13.73 since January 2nd (day before sausage roll was put on sale).

The budget of the campaign has not been disclosed, but Digital Brand Manager of Greggs Neil Knowles commented that “Rather than outspending, we are trying to think about how we can be smarter to punch above our weight.”

Using a cheeky tone of voice to inspire conversation is simple but quite difficult to execute well and consistently. Catherine Shuttleworth, founder of the agency Savvy Marketing, and commentator on retail marketing told the Financial Times that the Greggs vegan sausage roll campaign had demonstrated how social media can drive the agenda, creating a “water cooler moment” and connecting to customers. “Going large” on Veganuary had been a clever move by Greggs to win over a challenging group of customers by poking fun at the company itself, she said. However, she warned that as a corporate attitude it’s quite brave to use an irreverent tone to encourage conversation; “you have to have your offer right to engage in that level of conversation. Lots of businesses are frightened to do it.”

Their unique marketing style began in 2012 when hundreds of white-jacketed bakers protested outside 10 Downing Street eating sausage rolls in protest of George Osbourne’s proposed “pastry tax” on takeaway food. Founded almost 80 years ago in Newcastle, Greggs is now a FTSE 250 company. Since 2012 their pre-tax profit has risen by more than half and they have undergone a complete transformation from a more traditional baker to become a food-on-the-go retailer with a broad offering and they opened more stores in non-high street locations.

They have a brand team consisting of four people within a marketing division of 20. They with selected outside agencies; Splendid, a London social content agency, made the video, while publicity for the vegan sausage roll was handled by the Manchester office of Havas.

Mr Knowles stated that the digital brand team were glad to have relative independence. “We don’t have to go through lots of hoops; the board put their trust in us.” Mrs Mills added that their job was to change people’s perceptions of the brand. “There’s always been a bit of snobbishness against Greggs,” she explained.

Other notable campaigns include last year’s Valentine’s Day campaign which offered “romantic” £15 candlelit dinners in Greggs shops, and a spoof “Gregory and Gregory” event, when they went undercover at a food event in Richmond. The resulting ad showed middle-class customers astounded that the delicious food they had sampled was in fact from Greggs.

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