The exponential rise of Greggs, Bakery Chain and PR Machine TM has today, 26 October, resulted in a London debut for Tasty by Greggs: a sit-down cafe inside Primark on Oxford Street, one of London’s busiest, most famous shopping thoroughfares.
The once-Northeastern high street staple of teal and white check and gold lettering has rapidly evolved into one of Britain’s most successful retail brands. An unlikely and supposedly plucky omnipresent national icon of sausage rolls, steak bakes, and iced buns.
At a time of immense strain on hospitality and retail businesses, Greggs — which sits somewhere between the two — is in rude health, and has been throughout the successive crises of recent years. Through the introduction of a very simple, but oddly successful vegan sausage roll, an app, and generally being alert and commercially minded enough to adopt an online brand personality which millions find to be as relatable as the bakes, Greggs is on one and having its moment. Earlier this month, it recorded sales increases of 15 percent despite having also increased its prices, on items such as sausage rolls, in line with inflation.
Collaborations with fellow “affordable” brands like Primark are avenues through which it is trying to extend its brand awareness and feed the hype machine. Here, under neon lights, booth waltzer seating mimics pink iced doughnuts with sprinkles, while there’s a “sausage roll” swing and other kitsch props designed for Instagram. It is also, maybe accidentally leaning into a version of the tongue-in-cheek poptimism made cool by the likes of Vetements and Balenciaga with its merchandise: Logo cross body bags, Crocs rip-offs, and magic-eye-like twin-sets are faintly “fashion,” simultaneously horrendous and exhibiting commercial savvy.
But Greggs’s status as a working-class national success story and its low prices have tended to protect it from the kinds of criticism more readily levelled at fast food corporations and Big Hospitality more widely. As one former employee wrote in Vittles during the COVID-19 crisis, “Greggs is regularly held up by left-wing commentators of the ‘Nationalise Greggs’ variety as an example of what food service companies should aim to be: with a unionised workforce, profit redistribution and a living wage.
“...despite it supposedly being the ideal, Greggs still makes a profit in the same way as the self-styled bad guys of the food service industry — by overworking and underpaying its frontline staff.” In order for Greggs to win, it’s implausible that no one is forced to lose.
It’s notable, too,that in the press materials for this latest, Greggs rolls out not the chief executive, the head baker, or engineer responsible for the potions that fill these pastries, but the director of property, Tony Rowson.
“Since opening our first ‘Tasty by Greggs’ in February this year [in Birmingham], it’s been brilliant to see fans enjoying the world’s biggest and most Instagrammable Greggs,” Rowson said. “Opening our second in Primark’s flagship Oxford Street East store will be yet another milestone in our wider London expansion.”
The new Tasty follows what the company called its “flagship” (and what a friend of Eater London described as a “fucking scam”) in Leicester Square in July, and a branch inside Liverpool Street station, which opened in August this year.
How long all of this will last is anyone’s guess, but right now in London, Greggs is selling sausage rolls and allowing nothing to get in its way.