Interview: Harish Natarajan on Beating IBM Project Debater and Restoring Everyone’s Faith in Humanity…For Now
By Gemma JoyceFeb 15
Published January 3rd 2019
Greggs, for those outside the UK, is a chain of bakeries found all over the country. While they sell tons of stuff, from sandwiches to salads to cookies, they’re mainly known for their pastry products.
Affordable, quick, and delicious, Greggs has become a favorite of many in the UK. Their steak bake is near enough a national treasure. Associated with meat products, and not exactly known as a healthy eating hotspot, it came as a bit of a shock when Greggs announced their latest product: a vegan sausage roll.
Okay, it might not be technically ‘healthy’, but ‘vegan’ and ‘Greggs’ are not things that would usually go together in a sentence. The world is changing and people are eating less meat, so it’s not too much of a surprise.
Unless you’re Piers Morgan.
Of course no one was surprised that Piers decided to stick his oar in – Greggs included.
I feel really sorry for the people who made the vegan sausage roll (VSR) ad, as it’s a great little parody of Apple adverts and got hugely overshadowed by Piers Morgan (and others) having a meltdown.
Piers Morgan has spent all day today moaning about the whole thing, which I would suggest is sad but then I’m spending the day writing about it too…
In a world where vegans are often painted as the extreme and the outraged, it’s interesting to see just how livid people get over vegan or vegetarian food. Greggs’ announcement was no exception but, as they were prepared for Piers, they were also prepared for people who just couldn’t wrap their head around pastry that didn’t contain meat.
With a decent mix of passive aggressiveness and sass, the Greggs’ social media team’s replies to anti-VSR tweets were excellent.
It’s a great example of a brand not going on the defence instantly, which is often the go-to tactic for social media complaints. Instead, Greggs have okayed a slightly more boorish approach and stood behind their product.
So while the country debates if a sausage roll with no meat is really a sausage roll (check out the Google Trends chart below), let’s take a look at how the internet received Greggs’ bold new step into a plant-based world.
Let’s get anecdotal first.
I live in Brighton which is probably one of the most vegan-friendly places in the country. But with so much vegan choice around, could Greggs pull people in?
I thought they might, so I set off at 11:30am to the Greggs a few minutes away to get mine. I was greeted with this:
They’d all gone. There weren’t even any more to bake. Me and the three other people in the queue who were on the hunt for a vegan treat were disappointed. But I had a backup plan. I headed off to a Greggs a little further out from the city center to see if I’d have better luck.
At first it seemed disaster had struck again as I was faced with another empty wasteland of a tray. Hoping against hope I asked if there were any left. The cashier nodded, pointed at the oven, and said “Yeah, if you can wait 36 seconds.” I’ve waited 36 seconds before. Even longer than that sometimes. I could do it again.
I wasn’t the only one waiting. Everyone else in there was wanting one, too. I got mine and cleared out before I was mugged for them. Clearly the VSRs were a hit in Brighton, but what about elsewhere?
Here’s a thread from Robyn Vinter, Yorkshire resident and editor of the excellent Overtake, detailing her search for the Greggs VSR:
I have been to two Greggs and they have both sold out of vegan sausage rolls. Since a theme is emerging I have resolved to wait here for the next batch to come out of the oven, even though the next nearest Greggs is a street away— Robyn Vinter (@RobynVinter) January 3, 2019
It clearly wasn’t just a southern thing.
We set up a query to track mentions around the VSR and when we looked at ones around products selling out, we found hundreds of people reporting they were struggling to find a roll for themselves.
Clearly they were popular, or at least they were attracting a lot of interest. As of writing we’ve found 62,000 people taking about them since the big announcement yesterday. We saw two main peaks: one with Greggs telling us about the VSR and the other around lunchtime of launch day.
The hype was leading hunger and we can thank, in part, Piers Morgan for it.
As we’ve already mentioned, Piers Morgan came out against the VSR. Piers is a pretty divisive figure, mostly because he really likes saying divisive things. His tweets and appearances on Good Morning Britain often generate a lot of discussion, debate, and press coverage.
This was no exception. According to BuzzSumo, there has been 20 articles just talking about Piers’ tweets on the VSR, and Greggs’ response. That’s a nice bit of PR for Greggs (although their PR team obviously put some work in with 300 articles on the sausage roll itself in total).
Then you have to include everyone else getting involved to attack Greggs and those defending them (or just wanting to take a dig at someone). In other words, the VSR became the topic of the day (well two days) for UK Twitter.
This included a huge range of people, from political commentators:
To pop stars you forgot existed (no offence):
This Greggs debate is peak Twitter. People like sausage rolls. Greggs is everywhere, hot and cheap. Vegans like sausage rolls too. It makes good business sense for Greggs to sell them. They are. Everyone is happy. Everyone who isn’t, is a wally.— Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly (@forgetcape) January 3, 2019
With all said and done, on Twitter alone the Greggs vegan sausage roll conversation saw over 516 million impressions.
While the VSR probably would have been a success without Twitter users all over the country arguing or throwing out witty quips, it certainly helped to keep the product in people’s minds after the original announcement had died away.
With sold out shops all over the country, it’s hard to call it a flop.
I personally thought it was really good, while others in the office who tried it felt the same. But that’s a small sample. We can look to Brandwatch Analytics to get a better idea.
The conversations are full of sarcasm and there are plenty of negative mentions that are both pro and anti the VSR or Piers Morgan. In other words, it’s pretty clear the world finds eating (or not eating) meat a very emotive subject with jokes, insults, and memes thrown in all directions.
So we went for taste and looked at ‘disgusting’ and ‘delicious’ mentions. We created two categories based on relevant words and looked at the time period from Greggs opening up until 5pm.
In this instance we found 1,180 ‘delicious’ tweets compared to 74 ‘disgusting’ ones. It turns out most people criticising the roll did so before it was even available to buy.
Looking at positive and negative mentions for the same period, there were 1,716 positive ones compared to 962 negative (again with the latter including essentially pro-VSR posts who were angry about anti-VSR posts 🙃).
This is a pretty surface level analysis we’ve put together, but from the looks of it, people are getting behind Greggs and their vegan sausage roll (as am I).
Based on the nationwide clamor for the rolls, Greggs have hit on at least a short term success. It seems like a sure-fire way to get people in the door is to get people talking and debating on Twitter, something we also saw with Lush and their SpyCops campaign.
It’s yet to be seen if the VSR has staying power, but with McDonald’s also announcing a vegetarian Happy Meal today (unfortunate timing for McDonald’s PR team), it seems like the choice for non-meat eaters is getting wider and wider.