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Greggs going vegan has paid dividends: we can all learn from them

There is an adage about business and entertainment emerging in the conservative media, which is “get woke, go broke”.

It translates crudely to, “cave to the demands of social justice activists and you will suffer financially”. And while it is true that some have come a cropper by tilting the axis apparently too far in the eyes of their customers (see Gillette, the Charlie’s Angels movie), there are examples where “woke works”, to coin a phrase.

One such example is high street bakery chain, Greggs. To great furore, led in part by Piers Morgan, earlier this year the firm launched a new ‘vegan’ sausage roll. In one part of society eyes rolled, but in another it was an innovation of revolutionary character.

And now Greggs’ bosses have been vindicated – sales and profits have been massively boosted by the introduction of the product, so much so that they plan to give a bonus of up to £300 to every single employee of the company this month, totalling £7m in giveaways.

Greggs has upgraded its profits guidance three times since November saying that sales in its longstanding stores had risen 8.7% in the three months to 28 December. In addition to the employee bonus, it also paid a special dividend of £35m to its shareholders, which it says was as a direct result of the bumper trading it has enjoyed.

Chief exec Roger Whiteside said: “The major investments we have made in recent years to make Greggs an attractive choice in the food-on-the-go market are delivering. Consumers are responding very positively and we have seen increasing visits from both new and existing customers.”

It is not every day you hear such positivity from high street CEOs, but if it is largely attributable to the embrace of veganism, it’s hardly surprising. Here are some stats from the Vegan Society:

  • Orders of vegan meals grew 388% between 2016 and 2018 and they are now the UK’s fastest growing takeaway choice
  • Demand for meat-free food in the UK increased by 987% in 2017 and going vegan was predicted to be the biggest food trend in 2018
  • The number of vegans in Great Britain quadrupled between 2014 and 2019. In 2019 there were 600,000 vegans, and 150,000 in 2014
  • One in three Brits have stopped or reduced their meat consumption
  • One in six products launched in the UK in 2018 carried a vegan claim

This is clearly an exploding market, helped along by a decade or so of documentaries such as Cowspiracy and Food, Inc., but what the Greggs experience shows is in spite of the cynicism that often attends changes in attitudes, consumers ultimately vote with their feet.

Veganism can now be safely said to represent something more than a fad or passing trend, and Greggs management have been smart enough to call it, get on board, and not venerate their own sausage roll staple too much.

A lesson lies in there for all businesses: there’s opportunity outside your cash-cow offering, it just needs to be recognised and seized.

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