How a vegan sausage roll became the first PR triumph of 2019

Back in December, an email was ‘accidentally’ leaked that contained details of the upcoming launch of a vegan sausage roll by Greggs. And with Greggs not confirming nor denying rumours, social media became flooded with anticipation of this new product that was set to change the way people viewed veganism.

vegan sausage roll

We all know the stereotypes that surround vegan food. Soya, jackfruit, tofu, cashew nut cheese (yes, the kinds of terms you’ll find in Lucy Watson’s instagram stories) – it’s a lifestyle that most of us (especially students) usually wouldn’t be able to afford. Veganism is widely thought of of being an expensive way to live, so this new vegan alternative to the much loved £1 sausage roll from Greggs was set to throw a massive spanner in the works. And it has.

On 2nd January, Greggs posted the launch video for this ground-breaking new product on their YouTube channel, and it was an instant hit. It mimicked an Apple advertisement, with the new alternative sausage roll taking centre stage just as the latest iPhone would in one of Apple’s annual announcements. And in keeping with their launch video, Greggs sent out samples of their latest product to journalists and influencers, encased in a white box distinctly similar to an iPhone box, complete with silver-embossed text that read: “Pastry Layers: 96, Flake Resolution: Optimal, Taste Level: Maximum, Mega Bites: 10.”

iphone packaging

I know what you’re thinking. All this, for a £1 sausage roll? Well, there was method behind the madness. Knowing that veganism is thought of as an expensive lifestyle, Greggs have tapped into this stereotype by presenting this inexpensive sausage roll as something luxurious and glamorous. John Brown, founder of communications agency Don’t Cry Wolf, for example, stated:

“A lot of companies would be terrified of offending the vegan lobby so it takes a bit of guts to treat the whole thing as a bit of fun – for instance with the iPhone theme. A lot of vegans do own Apple products – that’s a neat touch.”

Most of us would have thought of Greggs and veganism as being polar opposites – Greggs is the ‘cheap and cheerful’ guilty pleasure we go to when we’re skint and want a quick bite to eat; veganism is a lifestyle choice that is widely stereotyped as being pretentious and stuck-up. So by combining the two, Greggs have completely changed the game – and it’s a genius move that none of us saw coming.

The packaging and marketing of a product that sells at £1 created a lot of hype and interest surrounding it’s launch, and Greggs’ clever use of humour has meant that the sausage roll itself has gained a massive following on social media. One day after it’s launch, the hashtag #greggsvegansausageroll was the top trending hashtag in the UK. And you only have to click on it to get involved in ongoing conversation surrounding the new alternative product, and even join in the wide-spread debate – Can it really be called a sausage roll if it doesn’t contain any sausage?

Greggs themselves have caught on to the social media thing, and used it to their advantage. The product gained yet more publicity when Piers Morgan (yes, I know, of course he had to get involved) criticised the product and questioned the need for it. Greggs however tweeted him back, arguably making a complete fool out of him; and other fast food chains such as McDonalds even joined the band-wagon when he also criticised their new meat-free products.

The geniuses behind Greggs’ latest PR stunts obviously have a sense of humour, and in this case, it’s served them well. We’ve seen a few examples of this from them recently. For example, there was the time they went undercover at a food market as an up-market, niche brand called ‘Gregory and Gregory’ and asked a few posh people to unknowingly try their food; as well as the time they lay a sausage roll in a manger surrounded by the three wise men, suggesting that said sausage roll could take Jesus’ place. That campaign, however, backfired, as many Christians took to social media to complain that it was offensive to their religious beliefs. In terms of sales, however, this controversy didn’t actually do any damage to Greggs’ brand; in fact, according to website PR Week, in the weeks after the controversy stores across the UK were selling out of sausage rolls. The fact that Greggs came out of the ‘sausage roll Jesus’ controversy unscathed, then, may explain their ballsiness in attempting to mock the vegan community – a community that in recent times have been the butt of a lot of jokes. They took the risk, though, and it’s paid off.

All of the work that’s been put into this £1 sausage roll – that’s not even really a sausage roll – has meant that Greggs have been sold out of the product in stores across the UK as early as midday. People have even began bidding online for them on eBay, and paying as much as £7 for one that comes in the iPhone box packaging. So there you have it: sausage rolls, vegan alternatives to sausage rolls, and putting Piers Morgan in his place – this is how you capture the hearts of the UK public. And with a bit of clever marketing and PR added into the mix, you’re almost guaranteed success. 

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Anna Stewart is an MSc Communication and Public Relations with Advertising student at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter: @astewart95 and LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/anna-stewart-b3127a139/