Greggs secrets revealed – from pasty markings code to money-saving cold food rule

By Staff

From humble beginnings to becoming a British high street stalwart, Greggs has captured the nation’s heart with its epic pastries.

Starting off as a single shop in Newcastle in 1951, there are now 2,000 stores in the UK hiring 21,000 employees and sales have more than doubled over the last decade.

Sasuage roll fans are in a frenzy this morning however, as Greggs stores across the UK have been hit with a nightmare IT glitch, forcing some sites to close.

Their fury only speaks to the demand, with Greggs pulling in more than a billion pounds in revenue each year. They churn out pasties, pies, donuts and sandwiches – but their biggest star is undoubtedly the famous sausage roll.

But what is the secret behind Greggs’ success?

Sausage roll secrets

The main attraction at any Greggs is the iconic sausage rolls.

“There are not many places in Britain you can get a lunch for £1 that is as tasty and satisfying as a sausage roll and that is the reason they sell five every single second,” says consumer journalist Harry Wallop in Channel 5 documentary Inside Greggs: Britain’s Best Bakery.

But how do they make them taste so good while keeping the cost down?

Chef Ed Warren, who has spent years helping major supermarkets develop their own brand pastry, knows how Greggs put theirs together.

All sausage rolls are filled with a mixture of fat, rusk and 22% pork mince, which is the lowest proportion going.

“As far as sausage rolls go, I believe that is the lowest out there,” says Ed. “But they have a price point they have to work to and that’s what it has to sell for.”

The low meat content helps to reduce costs but doesn’t taste great, so Greggs have developed a special blend of spices to boost the flavour.

Texture is everything with the pastry, which consists of layers of dough and fat and has to meet very specific requirements.

“You want it to be flaky, but not too flaky. You don’t want people to have a lap full of greasy pastry,” says Ed.

“There is 96, not 95, not 97, 96 layers. You can have more layers but more layers mean you have to add more fat. More fat means a higher price point.”

Once filling and pastry come together, Greggs use every trick they can find to keep production overheads low.

Any excess pastry is trimmed off the rolls and goes back into the production cycle to keep those costs down – and they don’t use egg for the gloss.

There are more than 2.5million produced every week and shipped frozen across the country by a fleet of 250 lorries.

Cold product savings

Customers had better be quick as Greggs food starts to get cold very quickly.

But the staff aren’t being lazy when they leave the products to cool on the shelves, it’s actually a clever way to make more money.

In the UK there is VAT on hot takeaway but not on cold foods, so they pay less to the taxman if they let their food go cold.

“The reason Greggs can have such reasonable prices is they’re not charged VAT if they’re not keeping them warm. They’re just baking them fresh,” explains former store manager James Oldfield.

However, customers want their food hot so staff have to bake little and often to keep them happy while trying to predict the future.

Mistakes can be very costly as ruining one batch of products means 20 minutes of not selling food.

How to get free food

According to a former employee, there are occasions where customers are entitled to free food.

Jamie Dear, who used to work in a Greggs, explains that they are allowed to hand out freebies if customers are genuinely not happy with the food on offer.

For example, if your local Greggs has run out of a certain product, or if what you’ve ordered is cold, you can get something else free of charge.

However, Greggs has yet to confirm whether this is a nationwide policy or if this is just down to manager discretion.

Explaining the rule, Jamie said: “If ever there are no sausage rolls or if there are cold products, Greggs can offer the customer something free of charge.”

Unique pasty markings

It’s not all about sausage rolls, as there are tonnes of other savoury products on offer.

There are so many being produced that new employees often have difficulty telling them apart until they’ve been initiated into the secret code.

“This is something I hadn’t noticed when I was a shopper at Greggs before I started working there,” says former store manager Jamie.

Every pasty has unique markings on top which staff need to learn so they can quickly and easily identify the product.

“One of the first things you have to do is learn the markings,” explains Jamie. “And it can only really be done in a text book style with a list and picture of what it should look like. It’s like a new language.

The corned beef has a zig zag line going across it, the sausage and bean has three horizontal slits, while the ham and cheese bake has a trim round the side with lines across.

The cheese and onion bake has got giant Vs and the steak bake has three diagonal slits with a trim around the side.

Sandwich speed

Greggs has managed to master the great British lunchtime institution – the sandwich.

They are competing with coffee shops and supermarkets whose sandwiches are usually made by subcontractors and have large shelf lives.

But Greggs decided to do things differently and make their sandwiches fresh in store to be eaten that same day.

To reduce costs and get lower prices, staff must produce the tasty products in double quick time.

“Even after 14 years I was shocked by the speed sandwich makers could deliver, and were expected to deliver,” said former employee James.

“Sixty an hour was about the standard, but I have seen people making 80, 90 an hour. I don’t know how. I watched them do it and still don’t know how that number is coming out of them.”

At his peak, another ex-employee Jamie could make four baguettes in a minute.

Breakfast game changer

Hundreds of thousands of bleary-eyed customers head to Greggs to get them going in the morning.

They went from practically selling nothing to being one of the leading breakfast destinations in the country, so what changed?

They moved to early opening times, with the shutters coming up at 6am, as well as introducing a game changing breakfast deal.

Selling a roll of baguette with a hot drink for just £2 got hordes of hungry customers in when it began in 2010.

“Everything started to change. We had more and more customers coming in, we got workmen, we got families, we got businessmen and women,” said former store manager, Alisha Guthrie Barres.

The key is efficiency, with preparation for the morning beginning the night before and there is a very strict schedule.

Another part of the masterplan was coffee, which is sold for as little as £1.40 a cup and has become the fast growing item on the menu.

There has been investment in the machines and quality – and the company now sells more coffee than Starbucks in the UK.

Getting customers in

Greggs spent years trying to be a bakery, coffee shop and takeaway – but realised fast food was the real money-maker.

With their high street locations, the company was well positioned to take advantage of the boom in coffee and sandwiches.

Each week more than 6million customers come through the doors, which is due to the stores being strategically placed.

Over the last few years they have made finding the perfect spot for a store as “an art form”, using boot on the ground research to work out where people are hanging around.

To get people inside, staff deliberately left the doors open so they would be tempted in by the aroma of freshly baked goods.

Anywhere near a bus stop is usually a great spot but there are opportunities further afield, such as in industrial estates, hospitals and petrol stations.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, their most popular outlet and hour was at Birmingham New Street train station between 10pm and 11pm.

Celebrity marketing

Greggs has managed to change the perception of its stores by using great marketing campaigns.

While there used to be snobbiness associated with the brand, a 2020 YouGov survey named it the most popular dining brand in the country.

“They embraced social media and they gave freedom to young, clever, witty people on Twitter to go for it,” said consumer journalist Harry Wallop.

They once let a student set up a rave in a Greggs store in Birmingham and took a stall to a fancy food festival to trick people in a viral stunt.

However, some of them haven’t worked so well, such as using a sausage roll as baby Jesus in a Christmas card.

One of their funniest gimmicks was getting Scottish singer Lewis Capaldi to surprise shoppers in Middlesbrough by working undercover in a store for the day in 2019.

Lewis was in full uniform with a hairnet and name badge – and the stunt went down well with younger customers.

Their biggest marketing success is definitely the vegan sausage roll, which proved a meteoric turning point in their strategy.

Before launch they delivered vegan sausage rolls to the media in iPhone-style boxes and poked fun at Piers Morgan.

The former Good Morning Britain presenter ‘threw up’ in a bucket live on air while trying the product and called the company “PC-ravaged clowns”.

They responded by tweeting: “Oh hello Piers, we have been expecting you.”

Pier’s scathing remarks didn’t stop the vegan rolls flying off the shelves and most stores sold out in the first week.

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