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Greggs' triumph as the Marketing Week Masters Brand of the Year was based not just on the opinions of the expert judging panel but also data collated by YouGov, which informed the judging process. The data combined metrics ranging from ad awareness and buzz to value and quality perceptions.

According to YouGov's UK head of data products, Amelia Brophy, the brands that featured on the Brand of the Year shortlist performed well on both the short- term metrics and those related to long-term brand equity. Greggs stood out, however, and at one point last year, one in five Britons recalled seeing a Greggs ad in the previous two weeks. Greggs also "harnessed a trend" with the launch of its vegan sausage roll, with “four in 10 Brits actively looking to reduce their meat consumption, so it really spoke to that group of people and made Greggs perform in a way that we really didn't expect them to.”

Read the full interview with Greggs CEO Roger Whiteside and Customer Marketing Director Hannah Squirrell at the Festival of Marketing as they explain why and how perceptions of the Brand of the Year are shifting from sausage rolls and sticky buns to coffee, wraps and salads, as it looks to convince more people that Greggs is a brand for them.

When asked to think about Greggs, most consumers have typically thought of sausage rolls, sticky buns and steak bakes. That’s a perception that Greggs has spent the last six years trying to shift as it looks to food-on-the-go - and in particular the coffee, breakfast and healthy eating sectors – to drive a brand and business turnaround.

It’s a turnaround that has seen huge success. In its most recent quarter, total sales were up 12.4% year on year, while like-for-likes increased 7.4%. And for the six months to 29 June, pre-tax profit hit £36.7m, up from £24.1m in the same period a year ago.

That is a far cry from the almost 30% drop experienced in the first half of 2013, when pre-tax profits were just £11.5m. And it’s a turnaround that helped Greggs win Brand of the Year – a category sponsored by YouGov - at the Marketing Week Masters awards earlier this month.

One of the issues it faced was a marketing issue. Awareness of the brand was “massively high” but dropped off when it came to consideration.

“A lot of people would go ‘I know about Greggs but it’s just not for me’,” explained CEO Roger Whiteside, speaking at the Festival of Marketing.

“We couldn’t lose our reputation for things that most people knew us for – sausage rolls, sweet bakery. But we had to try and establish a reputation alongside that for other things that were growing in demand. A reputation alongside bakery for healthy eating is part of the strategic objective.”

With that in mind, the launch of Greggs’ vegan sausage roll was key. It was meant to be a one-off product released to coincide with Veganuary but its popularity meant it became a menu staple.

While the vegan sausage roll no doubt tapped into the growing desire for vegan options, the marketing around its launch propelled its sales. With Greggs’ scale, it knew it could make vegan food mainstream, hence the idea to model its introduction on an iPhone launch and try to make it a “cultural moment”.

Greggs’ marketing director Hannah Squirrell believes that key to its success was the team’s ability to “think differently”.

“We have a pretty small marketing budget and it forces you to look at ways to cut through and do things differently,” she explained. “We just thought we really needed to make this launch the biggest and best we have ever done.”

Part of Whiteside’s strategy when he took over as CEO was to give marketing a bigger role at the company. When he joined, marketing sat under the trading function and was “a little group of people doing their best” in a company that didn’t prioritise their role. Squirrell was brought in in 2016 to “bring in skills we didn’t have” and now has a role that incorporates the customer, marketing and insight.

“The role is about representing the customer at every point and decision-making process in the business,” she said. “The team structure matches the customer journey and that’s why it’s successful.”

While Whiteside admitted most people didn’t think Greggs could change brand perceptions, sales tell another story. He claimed Greggs is now number two in the UK for breakfast, number three for coffee and has overtaken Tesco for sandwiches at lunch.

“Can you achieve a brand reappraisal for things that are not bakery but can sit in juxtaposition next to bakery? Most people say you can’t but I’m saying you can,” he explained.

“[Coffee, breakfast and sandwiches] aren’t the bakery items you would normally associate with ‘tell me what you think about Greggs’; they all say sausage rolls. That’s changing. That is what the tracking and everything else shows.”

Having shifted the business and customer perceptions from bakery to food-on-the-go, transformed the back end of the business, and with sales and profits on the rise, you’d be forgiven for thinking Whiteside and Squirrell’s jobs are done. They would disagree.

“I see this as simply getting us to the start line because the plan goes beyond this to the next phase, which is that Greggs becomes multichannel and seamlessly integrated from a customer experience perspective,” said Whiteside.

It is already running trials for delivery and click-and-collect, with electronic kiosks to come next and plans to link the customer experience through its loyalty programme. Greggs also wants to move into the hot food and evening sectors, which Whiteside describes Greggs as being “in the foothills of”, and to reconsider what it takes to be a successful food business as tastes diversify.

“That’s the bit we’ve all been gearing up for. It’s a really exciting prospect because this market is on the cusp of major disruption,” he concluded. “We can see that delivery and click-and-collect will disrupt food-on-the-go and we need to be part of that movement.”

This article originally appeared on marketingweek.com.

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