An edited version of this article was originally published in PR Week

Well done Greggs. Last week, on a grey January day that would – and perhaps should – have been dominated by stories regarding such hard-hitting topics as the annual rail fare rises and the government’s response to the cross-Channel migrant ‘crisis’, social media chatter was instead dominated by the unveiling of a variation on that great British institution – the Greggs’ sausage roll.

Yes, Greggs’ new vegan sausage roll was big news last week on social media. Within a day, a video posted to Greggs’ official social media feeds had been viewed a whopping two million times, while a tweet unveiling the new product had been liked more than 37,000 times and retweeted more than 6,000 times. With a little – and somewhat hysterical – help from Piers Morgan and other commentators who were quick to pounce on the new product as a symptom of political correctness gone mad (one can only wonder, as David Baddiel wittily surmised, that they had wrongly assumed that the meat ones were being discontinued), the vegan sausage roll quickly became the conversation of choice. Mainstream media coverage and a quick look at Google Trends shows that this was reflected in ‘real-world’ interest, with a spike in searches for Greggs and related topics towards the end of last week.

So how on earth do you create so much excitement around a reheated pastry product? There were a few magic ingredients here, and I don’t just mean whatever meat substitute is being used in place of the humble sausage. The timing was perfect – capitalising both on the January start of the increasingly popular ‘Veganuary’ movement, in which people commit to living on a plant-based diet for at least a few weeks, and the day when people were back at work, back commuting and, let’s face it, well primed to lap up whatever choice distractions social media threw their way. Clever and creative tactics helped – the reach of the video mentioned above once again underlines the value of good multimedia content on social, and whoever came up with the idea of sending vegan sausage rolls to journalists ‘disguised’ in iPhone look-alike cases deserves an early spot in the 2019 PR hall of fame. The team behind Greggs’ social media feeds also deserve credit for responding to comments with typical high-spirited and irreverent fashion, which kept the conversations going until well into a dark January evening.

It will be interesting to see how other high-street outfits follow suit in capitalising in the growing demand for vegan products and whether they can match the high PR bar set by Greggs. It will also be interesting to discover the answer to the most pressing question of all – is the vegan sausage roll any good? It’s lunchtime and I’m feeling peckish…Greggs, anyone?

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