The bakery chain Greggs has apologised for offending Christians with a nativity scene advert that replaces Jesus with a sausage roll.
The chief executive of the Freedom Association, a rightwing pressure group, claimed the advert was “sick” and that the retailer would “never dare” insult other religions.
The UK Evangelical Alliance strongly criticised the baker, saying it was a gimmick that seemed to be about “manufacturing a scandal to sell baked goods”.
Greggs released the image to promote its £24 advent calendar, which goes on sale next Monday. Its decision to use an image depicting the three wise men gathering round a crib containing a sausage roll sparked criticism from Twitter users and religious groups.
Greggs is not withdrawing the product – its first ever advent calendar – but said in a statement: “We’re really sorry to have caused any offence, this was never our intention.”
Simon Richards, chief executive of the Freedom Association, tweeted: “Please boycott @GreggsOfficial to protest against its sick anti-Christian Advent Calendar.
“What cowards these people are: we all know that they would never dare insult other religions! They should donate every penny of their profits to salvationarmyuk.”
Christians on Twitter said the advert was disrespectful. “I’m glad Christians kicked off and Greggs apologised,” wrote one Twitter user. “No other religion would stand for that nonsense.”
The calendars will go on sale in selected Greggs shops across the UK from Monday, priced at £24. The cover image features the Festive Bake pastry in a Santa Claus bag and bearing the greeting “Merry Greggsmas”.
Each door reveals a festive scene with a Greggs twist, such as kissing a Festive Bake under the mistletoe, and a Christmas tree adorned with mini gingerbread tree biscuits. Each calendar’s discounts are worth between £35-£60; a £5 gift card sits behind door 24, though some lucky customers will get a £25 card.
The Rev Mark Edwards of St Matthew’s Church in Dinnington and St Cuthbert’s Church in Brunswick said Greggs had been disrespectful. He told the Newcastle-based Chronicle: “It goes beyond just commercialism, it’s showing a total disregard and disrespect towards one of the greatest stories ever told, and I think people of all faiths will be offended by this.”
Daniel Webster, a spokesperson for the Evangelical Alliance, said: “Putting a sausage roll in the manger of a nativity scene seems to be manufacturing a scandal to sell baked goods and neglecting the real scandal of Christmas. Every year some company creates a Christmas controversy for commercial gain; it seems to get earlier each year.”
The advert also triggered debate on the Greggs Facebook page, though most posts welcomed the product.
The comedian Bob Mortimer tweeted: “Come on KFC … show Greggs the way … put a miniature Jesus in all your Christmas buckets.”
And the agony aunt and therapist Philippa Perry joked in a tweet: “ANYWAY who cheated and opened 24th Dec BEFORE 24th Dec to find this out?”.
Announcing the launch of the calendar earlier this week a Greggs spokesperson had said: “Novelty advent calendars have been around for years, so we thought it was time to take the concept up a notch. Fans won’t be disappointed by what’s behind the doors.”