UK bakery chain Greggs believes the launch of its much-discussed vegan sausage roll helped generate an "exceptional sales performance" at the start of 2019.

The publicity surrounding the Quorn-filled rolls helped drive footfall during the seven weeks leading up to February 16th and boost sales by 9.6% compared to the same spell last year, the company said.

But it seems the good results may have been driven just as much by controversy surrounding the launch as by tuning in to a growing food trend.

Also, it’s been pointed out that the same period last year was hit by foul weather from the ‘Beast from the East’ weather system.

The company said it experienced extra sales this year for a range of its products, including the new vegan sausage rolls, but also the brand’s meaty “iconic sausage rolls” and bakes. 

"The performance builds on the strong finish to 2018, and has been supported by extensive publicity surrounding the launch of the vegan-friendly sausage roll at the start of January," the company said.

"The rate of growth has eased slightly in February but the strength of trading is likely to have a material impact on the first half result for 2019."

Greggs, more usually known for its meaty savouries than catering for vegan and vegetarian alternatives – it sells 1.5 million meaty sausage rolls a week – launched the vegan sausage roll last month in response to public demand, and an online petition of 20,000 signatures organized by the campaigning group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

And it caused something of a publicity-fest on social media, with celebrities such as Piers Morgan and Ricky Gervais getting involved.

Laith Khalaf, senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown told Sky News, “It's unclear how much of the boom can be attributed to sales of actual vegan rolls rather than simply the publicity associated with the launch.”

Publicity or not, the Greggs experience certainly shows the retail marketing potential of being in tune with food trends, especially the growth of vegetarianism.

Many big retailers are responding successfully, with McDonalds holding a successful ‘Veganuary’, in which it launched a vegan celebrity cookbook and says over 500,000 customers tried a vegan alternative to its more famous beef and chicken burgers.

And Marks & Spencer is just the latest brand to unveil a large plant-based range of meat-free meals with its Plant Kitchen collection, featuring around 60 dishes and snacks.

Sourced from Sky News