Vegan sausages and clever marketing have helped this cheap chain to take over the UK

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The unusual national conversation is thanks to Greggs: a cheap, no-frills bakery chain that, with clever marketing and the ability for customers to buy vegans, has avoided the discomfort of retail in the UK.

In some Greggs stores, hundreds of customers stood in the cold to try the new vegan steak casserole. The brand has inspired real fans to start Gregg's esteem companies. During the heated election campaign last year, political rivals Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn made sure they were photographed in their stores.

Its rise is a unique British story and its fame would confuse outsiders – experts say, however, that companies around the world can learn from Gregg's success.

It was a long time before the chain enjoyed great popularity. Last week, employees were rewarded with a £ 300 ($ 390) bonus after a series of successful returns. Greggs started his life in Tyneside, a former heavy industry center in the north east of England in 1939, and was a memorable event on a select number of major roads in Britain just a decade ago.

Boris Johnson eats a bun with Gregg's sausages and Jeremy Corbyn in a shop ahead of the 2019 general election.

The company reinvented itself with an unusual and relentless marketing campaign and a shift towards healthier products that appeal to wealthier customers.

"People want to be associated with Greggs," says Sara Collinge, general manager of marketing consultancy Don & # 39; t Cry Wolf. "It's incredible to think that a few years ago they were a busy business that really struggled to keep up with other … chains like Subway."

Did Greggs conquer Britain?

"Young people especially love Greggs," says student Holly McManus – and she would know. A year ago, McManus founded an online Greggs recognition group for other University of Liverpool attendees with more than 400 members.

"Go to Greggs, take a pastry" is the simple mantra on the community's Facebook page. It is accepted by students across the UK.

"There are two Greggs on our campus and at lunchtime the line always goes out the door and down the street," says McManus, who estimates that she eats at Greggs twice a week.

Greggs refines its vegan range with the market launch of the meat-free steak bakery

The company's low prices add significantly to the company's popularity and help make its products a staple for young Britons. The McManus group vice president said that the "ritual routine of a sausage roll during the break" while at school was his "first true experience of culinary independence".

In 2017, a student from Birmingham University jokingly wrote on Greggs' Facebook page asking to host a party in one of his stores. in a smart PR move, the company accepted it, temporarily turned a point of sale into a nightclub, and enjoyed days full of advertising.

It doesn't hurt to have prominent friends either. "I ate 7 rolls of sausage in a row and had to go to bed, I love you," said Ed Sheeran wrote on Twitter in 2017 after Greggs gave him a specially designed box of their best-selling item. Two years earlier, actor Jake Gyllenhaal admitted that he likes to sit in a park in the UK and eat a Greggs baguette.

But the company is not just an obsession with young people. It has risen to number 1 in the UK's most popular food brands, according to YouGov. Greggs is valued by millennials and boomers alike because it is accepted in numerous demographic areas.

Customers are queuing in front of a London Greggs at lunchtime.

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Nothing makes Britain talk like a vegan bun.

When Greggs launched the herbal alternative to his most popular product last year, it caused excitement and controversy that even the most optimistic marketing team would not have expected.

Many welcomed his arrival, with the general social media consensus that the product tasted about as good as the meat version. The Guardian said the list offers "an opportunity for a divided country to heal itself."

The vegan bun that brought Britain to a standstill.

"They democratized vegan food, made it more accessible, and brought it to the country's main streets," says Collinge. "They took plant foods from their vegan enclaves and got into the mainstream."

Others fueled controversy. "Nobody was waiting for a vegan blood sausage, you clowns ravaged by the PC," said Piers Morgan on Twitter – to which Greggs replied, "Oh hello Piers, we were expecting you."

Sales of the vegan product picked up over the course of 2019, helping to increase the chain's profit in the first half of the year by 58%.

"Greggs is very aware of trends in food and consumer trends and has very good marketing. It has a friendly and entertaining image that people can really engage with," said Maureen Hinton, Global Retail Research Director at GlobalData.

"Piers Morgan helped a lot by moaning about it," Hinton admits. But the company was already on the right track. "They were thinking ahead," she says. "Ethics, sustainability, and governance are really big issues for retailers, and that seems to have really worked."

For his encore, Greggs launched a vegan steakback this month – revealed with an eye-catching online trailer. And in a perfectly proportional reaction, British consumers lined up in the cold at 10 p.m. get a first taste.

Both vegan products contain quorn, a meat substitute that derives its protein content from a fermented mushroom.

PR still Greggs bread and butter

In London at least, Greggs faces fierce competition from chains like Pret a Manger and Costa Coffee, which have seen rapid growth in recent years, offering sandwiches, salads, and coffee (as well as pastries and cakes).

But instead of emulating their models, Greggs stuck to cheap, traditionally British products, including the popular £ 1.75 ($ 2.30) sausage, while targeting new midsize customers in cities in the south of England ,

The strategy worked; The country's hottest chain is currently planning to open 100 new stores in 2020. With a dramatic increase in stocks, Greggs is also about to join the UK FTSE 100 benchmark.

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"It might surprise some that Greggs does so well by selling off-message products that are considered unhealthy," said Tim Denison, director of retail intelligence at Ipsos Retail Performance.

"However, the centuries-old basics of retail are still very relevant. The location is key – Greggs was very adept at finding honey pot spots that may not have been considered traditional retail locations."

But shopfitting and vegan products are not Greggs' secret to success, experts say: the real strength lies in marketing.

"What made them incredibly successful was no longer focusing on their products and focusing on their brand," explains Collinge. "They absolutely know their audience."

This trust is evident in several PR operations. For example, when Greggs launched his vegan role, he was excited when he shipped the product to journalists who were packaged in some sort of iPhone box.

"You got it," says Collinge. "They have the self-ironic British humor, they know they can make fun of people, but the most important thing they do is make fun of themselves, which works incredibly well."

Can Greggs grow taller?

Greggs has its roots in World War II, but the company's rise to the top group of British brands only began in the last decade when the new management inherited a business that had been hard hit by the global financial crisis.

"What people misinterpret in the UK market is that if it's a low price, it has to be low quality," Greggs CEO Roger Whiteside told The Telegraph last year. "But customers are clear about what I call the Aldi / Lidl effect. Low price doesn't necessarily have to be low quality."

It is a fitting comparison; The German superstore Aldi has built a loyal fan base on both sides of the Atlantic. When it enters a new American city, it's not uncommon for hundreds of people to appear at the opening. The attraction also lies in the low prices, which are often so cheap that Aldi Walmart beats in his own discount game.

However, experts also see challenges for Greggs in telling his story to consumers outside the UK.

"That's one of the reasons why they haven't expanded internationally – they know that what they have is special and really works for this market, although it doesn't necessarily need to be translated," says Collinge.

"I don't know if it's one of those companies that you can open overseas," agrees Hinton. "It's pretty British in personality."

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Hinton also wonders how long his commitment to low prices can last. "How far can you expand and continue to grow without increasing costs? Branches and the need to employ people are becoming increasingly expensive, especially as living wages increase," she adds.

But with excitement about his vegan offerings and colorful marketing campaigns, Greggs has cooked a storm at least in the UK, even if his vegan offerings continue to provoke controversy.

"People now expect brands to be brave and stand for something," Collinge concludes. "If you don't upset someone, you're not doing it right."