Lifestyle Economics

The Greggs vegan sausage roll is no abomination – merely market forces in action

Step away from Twitter for a few hours and you often miss something. No, I don’t mean Chris Grayling and trains, or Chris Grayling and ferries (any news on planes?). I mean the furore over the nation’s most loved bakery launching a new product.

Yesterday it was announced that Greggs would release a vegan sausage roll. The much loved pork sausage roll is currently the bakery’s best-selling product, with 1.5m consumed per week. The vegan sausage roll hit shelves today, proving so popular in the Westminster bubble that it sold out by 9am.

Unfortunately, like all things voguish, it has proven divisive. Greggs have been branded ‘PC-ravaged clowns’. Detractors feel that the precious sanctity of processed meat wrapped in layers of pastry has been violated. They point to a veganisation of all that they hold dear. Our McNuggets could be next!

From a consumer and producer standpoint, however, the arrival of such products makes total sense. If the vegan sausage roll shows anything, it is the market in action.

The launch comes off the back of a 20,000 signature strong petition by PETA to Greggs for the introduction of a vegan sausage roll last year. Meanwhile the charity Veganuary is steadily gaining traction. The movement, which encourages participants to live on a vegan diet for the first month of the year, has seen record numbers sign up including 14,000 people last Sunday alone.

Even if a fraction of Britain’s 3.5 million vegans opt to try the new sausage roll, that is a significant increase in demand which was otherwise going untapped. Yet many who are not convinced of the scientific or moral justifications of veganism imagine the new product will somehow ‘disrupt’ the traditional Greggs experience.

Greggs, who have a fantastic Twitter presence, have been at pains to demonstrate the original bestseller will still be available. But, should you be open to trying new things, or keen to find out whether a meat-free diet can sustain an amateur runner or Mo Farah, there is the option to sample the new roll for a mere 1-5p extra.

So what is the net result? In a word: freedom. The vegan sausage roll enlarges the choice of existing patrons while increasing their overall number, welcoming ever more people to the joys of a cheeky Greggs.

And what of the benefits to Greggs? Beside the likely increase in profit, there has been significant publicity, with Greggs leading the news agenda on the first working day of the year. But this is also part of a wider trend for supermarket chains and food outlets. McDonald’s are launching their first vegetarian happy meal, whilst Marks and Spencer, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Iceland and Waitrose have all joined ‘the hype’.

The market for meat-free and plant-based diets has been growing dramatically in recent years. Ignoring these trends for the sake of a small cabal of entrenched acolytes of meat, or else engaging in ‘soundness signalling’ à la Piers Morgan, are equally nonsensical approaches. Even if veganism, vegetarianism, pescetarianism, flexitarianism (and the more niche fruitarianism) do turn out to be ephemeral crazes, this does not remove the very real consumer demand for such products in 2019.

Greggs’s new product is not the PC-brigade going mad, merely a demonstration of market forces in action. So relax, have some plant.

Jack is a former research intern at the IEA. He studied History at the University of Edinburgh focusing on the politics and culture of post-war Europe and is now studying an MSc in International Relations at the LSE where he is an Anniversary Scholar.

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