The Marketing Profile: Scott Jefferson of Greggs

LONDON - In a world where received wisdom states that a typical marketer stays in any job for an average of 18 months, Scott Jefferson's five years at bakery retailer Greggs is a notable innings.

But he certainly hasn't been stuck in the same routine over that period. His job has evolved dramatically to reflect the needs of the Newcastle-based business, which has undergone significant changes - probably the most since the business was founded in 1939.

Back when Jefferson started, Greggs was a decentralised operation with several semi-autonomous divisions, each handling functions such as bakery production and transport separately.

The result was a brand and product with slight regional differences. Additionally, its take-home market - that is, shoppers buying products for home consumption - was, according to Jefferson, being ‘hoovered up by the supermarkets'.

So Greggs decided to turn its attention to the ‘food-on-the-go' sector. Instead of viewing local bakers as its rivals, Sir Michael Darrington, Greggs' then-retail director and company boss, decided it would compete in a market that was already highly competitive, crowded with fast-food chains such as McDonald's and sandwich shops like Subway.

The creation of a single national brand allied to a unified offering was imperative, and it was this dual challenge that prompted Darrington to recruit Jefferson, now aged 45, as the company's first marketing director.

‘In many ways time has flown by, but in others it has been a long road,' reflects Jefferson on his time at what is now the UK's biggest bakery chain. He has built a marketing department from scratch and, as the plan took shape and the business grew and harmonised, he was able to oversee its first TV advertising in 2007.

Starring comedian Paddy McGuinness, who has become the face of Greggs, the campaign to date has been focused on brand-building and, more recently, given the economic climate, has been used to relay product news.

‘It was quite new for Greggs, so you had to take people with you,' says Jefferson. ‘The challenge inevitably has been balancing short-term product marketing with long-term brand-building.'

Last year, he oversaw an extensive survey of Greggs' customer base. Two points came back clearly. First, customers asked to see more new products. They also wanted, according to Jefferson, to be convinced about quality.

He has acted on both these findings. The company has trebled the number of new products it offers. These include a range of baguettes and muffins that Jefferson says beat pricier equivalent products in blind taste tests. Big-sellers such as its cheese and onion pasty and chicken bake have also been upgraded.

Jefferson admits that the recession has taken its toll on the business. ‘Town-centre footfall is still typically negative year-on-year, but we are absolutely wedded to the high street,' he explains. ‘In the current market, it's a pretty good perform­ance. There are examples of brands going into administration, such as Coffee Republic; then, at the other end of the spectrum, you have the likes of McDonald's going from strength to strength.'

Greggs' half-year trading statement, published last month, showed sales up 4.4%, while like-for-like sales had risen by a more modest 1.5%. Comparative figures in 2008 were a much healthier 7.7% and 5.1% respectively. However, Jefferson says Greggs had planned for little growth and managed its costs accordingly. It is now preparing for a second big push.

Jefferson's career path and Greggs' recent history took a twist in summer 2008, when Ken McMeikan took over as chief executive, succeeding the retiring Darrington. McMeikan, still in his early 40s, arrived with strong track records at both Tesco and more recently Sainsbury's, where, as retail director, he was a key part of the team, led by chief executive Justin King, which helped turn around the business.

Soon after arriving, McMeikan decided that the marketing director role should be represented in the boardroom. ‘He wanted the customer at the heart of the business agenda,' says Jefferson. McMeikan also ordered the conversion of the Baker's Oven chain, which Greggs had owned since 1994, but had kept as a distinct entity, into the main brand.

Another factor giving Greggs the feel of a big business has been its nascent focus on the area of corporate social responsibility. It has established a CSR steering group - on which Jefferson sits - with responsibility for ‘Food our customers can trust'. He has overseen a push to provide nutritional information in-store for some products, as well as the removal of hydrogenated fats from recipe formulations. He is working to bring the salt levels of the chain's fare into line with Food Standards Agency guide­lines, but says he will ‘only move at a pace that customers find acceptable'.

Greggs has also been experimenting with a concept shop in a secret location in the South East, and plans to open a further two by the end of the year. The idea is to communicate the strength of its bakery heritage, with store layouts designed to encourage browsing and increase the number of items purchased.

‘The challenge for us in shop design is to work on improving the ambience of the shops and focus on telling a few good things well. We haven't got there yet, but we are doing a lot of work,' says Jefferson.

Despite this project receiving a mention in the company's latest financial report, Jefferson does not want to say too much about the concept shops. Caution, it appears, is a typical Jefferson trait, and at times during our conversation he expresses concern about how some of the seemingly innocuous things he says will be perceived.

Conversely, he does have a mischievous sense of humour, which sometimes emerges in his contributions to Marketing's Marketing Society Forum. He also cheekily named In the Night Garden, the BBC children's brand, as his favourite novel in Marketing's Little Black Book - on the basis that he reads the books to his children. The joke backfired somewhat, however, when he was assumed to be referring to the fancy, intellectual-sounding' post-modern novel of the same title by US writer Catherynne M Valente, a million miles away from his bluff, down-to-earth persona.

Greggs may be biding its time as it rides out the recession, but, once the economy recovers, Jefferson will certainly relish the opportunity to take the retailer's marketing up a notch as it seeks to take its place at the top table in the food-on-the-go market.

Inside work

  • 1987-1991: Associate product manager, rising to European product manager, Avon
  • 1991-1994: Senior brand manager, Sensodyne toothpaste, Stafford Miller
  • 1994-1998: Marketing manager, Hill's Pet Nutrition, Colgate Palmolive
  • 1998-2002: European marketing manager, Unipath/Clear Blue, Unilever
  • 2002-2004: Marketing controller, GNER
  • 2004-present: Marketing director, rising to customer & marketing director, Greggs

Outside work

  • Family: Married, with three sons, aged nine, six and two
  • Home: York
  • Interests: Playing and watching football, going to the gym
  • Favourite film: Pulp Fiction
  • Favourite band: U2



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