While the high street crumbles, Greggs is on a roll

The Drum 10 Jan 2019 04:00
While the high street crumbles, Greggs is on a roll

In a time of huge national division, people across the UK have united behind an unlikely banner: Greggs, the bakery.

Its £1 vegan sausage roll recently sparked a national frenzy. It sold out soon after launch and Greggs’ Twitter feed filled with messages reassuring customers that more would be available soon. Despite Piers Morgan fuelling the public debate, in his typical fashion, by criticising the chain for being ‘PC-ravaged clowns’, there are heaps of favourable reviews of the treat - from meat-eaters and vegans alike. And this masterclass in product roll-out is no fluke. Greggs knows exactly how to navigate a trend, and deploy a marketing tactic.

Under chief executive Roger Whiteside, appointed in 2013, Greggs has turned itself around. Firstly, it’s repositioned. It’s no longer a take-home offer: it’s ‘food-on-the-go’. Unbelievably affordable food-on-the-go at that. It’s got its pricing model right by applying serious rigour across its supply chain, which it owns. It will be investing £100m into manufacturing and distribution centres in the UK this year, meaning end-to-end control of its operations.

And communities have always been important to the business. Long before having a social purpose became popular, the brand was taking its responsibilities seriously. The Greggs Foundation, which is devoted to "Making a difference at the heart of our local communities", was set up in 1987 and distributes around £3m per year to local communities, running breakfast clubs in schools and donating unsold food to charities and food banks.

It's built on a highly relatable notion of Britishness. It’s proud of its roots in the northeast, giving it a distinct personality and a strong connection to an original founder and a particular heritage. At the same time, it isn’t wedded to a nostalgic version of times past. Savvy marketing initiatives, including the reversed logo in Fenwicks’ window, keep it relevant and contemporary as a brand, and it never takes itself too seriously. It’s about pastry, after all.

The only real skeleton in the closet is around health. How are its high-fat, low-price and tempting products contributing to our growing obesity problem? Is providing a ‘healthier’ range, which makes up over 10% of sales, going far enough? All this being said, there’s a lack of judgement at the heart of the Greggs personality, meaning providing the stuff we love but probably shouldn’t have as much is a key part of its brand.

Sairah Ashman is global CEO at Wolff Olins.

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