Robyn Vinter 3rd January 2019
If you’ve been living under a rock, or actually just don’t have a Twitter account, you’ll not have noticed there’s been quite the furore over the new vegan sausage rolls from Greggs. There’s been a whole thing with Piers Morgan being a twat (which it does nobody any good to explain), lots of people have reported the pastry treats have sold out in their local branches, and #greggsvegansausageroll has been trending on Twitter all day, to various degrees of delight and disdain.
I mean, it doesn’t seem right, does it? It smacks of a gimmick — what are these vegan folks who eat avocados and shop in Waitrose doing at a Greggs? It’s a big joke. They’ll be back to Pret in no time. Once this fad has died out, Greggs will once again be the refuge of builders and single mums with spotty faces.
If this sounds right to you, you’re buying into some silly stereotypes of Greggs customers and vegans, and it’s because of class.
It doesn’t take a genius to notice that working-class people are more inclined to get their lunch from Greggs than their middle-class counterparts. It’s a combination of economic and social issues — price and, perhaps, snobbery, at its core.
Working-class people are as likely to be a ‘foodie’ as any middle-class person
But these days, as described in this brilliant analysis by Phil McDuff, the working class aren’t bigoted, old-fashioned, manual workers, who wouldn’t dare touch “foreign muck” or eat their steak anything but well done. Nor are they builders and spotty single mums.
Working-class people are as likely to be a “foodie” as any middle-class person — they might not regularly eat truffle oil or charcoal but it doesn’t mean they’ll eat any old shite without knowing what’s good and what isn’t.
Greggs is popular because its food is cheap, yes, but it’s also good quality. It is. It’s hot from the oven, not hot from spending two hours on a warmer — something you can’t say about Pret, for example.
While there are lots of really tasty and delightfully unhealthy vegan products out there, they’re not often cheap
Similarly, people don’t turn vegan because they don’t like pasties. They turn vegan with the understanding they’ll probably have to say goodbye to pasties, even if they might not want to.
I must confess I’m not vegan but I would be if I wasn’t simultaneously tight, gluttonous and lazy. I usually swap cow’s milk for oat milk at home (it costs almost the same and tastes better) but when I want hot stodge I’ll choose a cheese and onion pasty if the only alternative is the healthier, albeit award-winning, Mexican bean wrap.
While there are lots of really tasty and delightfully unhealthy vegan products out there, unlike their meat equivalents, they’re not often cheap. In fact, sometimes, there’s a real sense of being absolutely rinsed.
Greggs isn’t catering for a new customer — it’s catering for a customer that it had started to lose
Pork sausages are made of an animal that’s been looked after for months then fed and slaughtered. Veggie sausages are often literally made of a variation of what that pig was being fed, but they often still come out more expensive. There are a lot of reasons why meat is cheap compared with its alternatives — EU agricultural subsidies, streamlined processes, larger demand — but one of the reasons is vegan food can be a captive market.
While I don’t doubt Greggs is also motivated by profit rather than goodwill, the company has been able to manufacture a product that seems fairly priced and good quality. So it’s no wonder it’s popular.
What’s important to note, though, is Greggs isn’t catering for a new customer — it’s catering for a customer that it had started to lose, a customer that had been forced to go elsewhere.
The reason people are so excited about these little £1 sausage rolls is that, for so many people, it’s two worlds finally colliding. It’s the food people like to eat — cheap, delicious (it is, I had one this morning) and not really very good for you. But it’s also in line with their values — something that, until recently, was hard to find.
Robyn Vinter 3rd January 2019