On Wednesday, Marks and Spencer announced that their cult sweet-treat, Percy Pigs, had gone completely veggie. The fruit flavoured, smiling pig-head-shaped sweet has been a firm favourite with shoppers since it was introduced in the mid-90’s, but until this week, they contained gelatine.
The new recipe has dropped the gelatine, meaning they’re suitable for vegetarians. Since 2011, there has been a separate veggie-version, denoted by its green packet and green-coloured ears, as opposed to the pink of the original, but now M&S have gone the whole hog and all the snacks are gelatine-free, meaning that not only vegetarians, but also those who can’t eat pig products for religious reasons, can enjoy the sweet.
The gummy, spongy pigs have a strong fan-base: in 2009-2010 alone, Percy Pigs brought £10,000,000 revenue to the store. Over the years, Percy has spawned a dynasty of sweets: he married a lemon-flavoured pig called Penny, had piglets, made friends at home and abroad (a sheep and a cow, ‘Percy and Pals’, as well as a tiger and a panda, all of whom boasted different, if equally difficult to identify, flavours to the raspberry, strawberry, cherry, and grape-flavoured Percy), as well as packets of ‘rosy noses’ and ‘phizzy pig tails’.
It might seem like a win-win move for the retailer, opening the sweet up to a wider market, but not everyone has welcomed the change with open arms. The line has seen over two dozen variations over the years, but it is the most recent has enraged certain quarters, with customers stating that they have been so upset by the flavour change that they have returned the sweets for refund. Piers Morgan performatively spat out the sweet on Good Morning Britain, throwing scorn on M&S for the change, despite admitting that he’d never actually eaten the original version and slamming M&S for pandering to vegetarians and vegans – although Charlotte Tobin who presents the weather on the same show stated she couldn’t taste the difference. Marks and Spencer say that they have tested the recipe to ensure it is as close as possible to the original and that they haven’t changed the ‘really important things that people love about Percy; the flavour is the same, he still has real fruit juice and never has artificial colours or flavours.’
So is this a pig-headed idea? The accusation is that M&S is sacrificing flavour and texture for social responsibility or virtue-signalling: it’s true that gelatine probably does give the pigs their distinctive texture – now replaced by beeswax in the veggie version – but given that gelatine itself imparts little flavour by itself, it seems unlikely that there will be a substantial difference. Percy may have made himself the target of outrage from those who feel the pig is lesser without, well, pig in it, but for those for whom the confectionary was previously verboten, the future is sweet.