Why Gen Z love Greggs sausage rolls and Percy Pigs

Retailers who can speak to younger audiences are posting huge profits. Here’s how they've created a Gen Z-friendly marketing campaign.

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Helena Young
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Let’s look at the winners and losers of today’s hostile high street. In the red corner are Ted Baker and The Body Shop, both of which have gone into administration. In green are Greggs and M&S, which have reported strong profits even in the face of declining footfall.

What has made customers fall in love with a sausage roll over a bar of vegan soap? It might feel like luck of the draw. But in truth, the dividing line between success and failure is increasingly being drawn by younger audiences, colloquially referred to as Generation Z.

Legally defined as 18-28 year olds, the label of Gen Z is now being thrown at anyone without eye bags. In reality, if a shopper knows the pain of not being old enough to have a Facebook account, they are probably in this category. And marketers are desperate to speak to them.

Some are succeeding. Together, Greggs and M&S have garnered a 350,000 strong following on TikTok. Below, we’ll take a look at the thinking behind the numbers, and pinpoint how both brands are connecting with the next generation of consumers.

Generation Greggs

Greggs this week reported a huge increase in profits year-on-year of £300m. It’s the kind of sales growth that many of today’s retailers can only dream of. And it’s probably not the kind of demand that most would expect a flaky-pastry shop to experience.

But the Greggs brand is now far more than that viral vegan sausage roll from 2019. Some of the marketing initiatives the bakery chain has cooked up in the past two years include:

If we were to sum up the above strategy in one word, it would be ironic. Beyond quirky new product launches, Greggs has leaned into its uncool reputation as a legacy brand (its TikTok bio now reads, “the Sausage Rolls your dad always bangs on about”).

Its TikTok channel is a testament to this approach, where Greggs has swapped the sales talk for humble, half-baked, and self-deprecating posts. As an example, one recent video shows two young bakers filming themselves sailing a ship and using a sausage roll as a telescope.

In this way, it has picked up on a trend which Sabrina Faramarzi, founder of data agency Dust in Translation, says is the Gen Z customer voice. Faramarzi told The Guardian, “where millennials have worshipped unattainable influencers, Gen Zs prefer the homegrown hero.”

Percy Pig, CMO

Like Greggs, M&S is a high street staple. Many associate it with older generations and floral chiffon scarves. But the new star products on the shelves are more youthful: a bag of sweets and a chocolate roulade. Or, as they are better known, Percy Pig and Colin the Caterpillar.

This is not just because of a love of gelatin. Instead, the sales drive is due to clever marketing campaigns that have seen it go after a younger demographic (and resulted in Percy Pig becoming a £50m brand in its own right).

“What you have to do is speak to Gen Z on the channels where they’re spending most of their time,” marketing director of M&S Food, Sharry Cramond told Raconteur last year.

Like Greggs, much of Marks & Spencer’s content is published on TikTok. Each video is produced in-house with a focus on quick turnaround, unpretentious videos in which its mascot, Percy Pig, features prominently. Examples include:

  • Percy Pig as a security guard and vegan chef in an M&S “meet the team” video
  • The Traitors TV-show parody featuring Percy Pig in ‘The Trotters’
  • Percy Pig loving a friend’s new pair of trousers (which happen to be from M&S)

By focusing on inside jokes rather than selling, M&S can keep its tone authentic and customer-centric in a similar vein to Greggs’ amateur, home-cooked posts. It also avoids the multiple sign-offs required for third-party agencies to post trending content weeks too late.

“The team in the office keeps a close eye on what’s emerging,” added Cramond. “They can get straight into costume and have a post uploaded within an hour.”

That success has filtered through every aisle. Last week, the retailer revealed it has seen the biggest growth in womenswear sizes 6 to 10, suggesting that young women are shopping more at the store. This has helped to fuel a £1bn sales boost at the retailer.

Know your customer

Whether Greggs or M&S, Gen Z hate brand messaging and prefer an authentic voice. As a result, the brands they are loyal to today are those that have ditched the braggy language.

Instead, they seek to subtly blend into social feeds using popular trends such as ‘Outfit Of The Day’ styling videos and viral memes. By shunning traditional ads for ‘anti-advertising’ methods, marketing teams can truly engage Gen Zers, not just sell to them.

Underpinning these efforts is a more serious theme. Greggs’ £2.85 meal deal offers young’uns value for money in a cost of living crisis. M&S has slashed its food prices in order to make its brand not just appealing to Gen Z, but affordable too.

This is another reason why both brands’ accessible voices are beating ‘premium’ rivals, such as the pricier Starbucks and luxury retailer, Mulberry.

It all comes back to knowing your customers’ needs; and Gen Z is turning out to be a very different shopper to millennials before them. But like as not, they are also the future consumer. No company can seriously plan a long-term marketing strategy without them.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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