Vegan chicken fillet roll copycat row bites Insomnia Coffee

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Chicken rollImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Chicken fillet rolls are extremely popular in Ireland

A coffee chain is in hot water online after being accused of copying a vegan take on one of Ireland's most famous sandwiches.

Sam Pearson, who owns Dublin-based Vegan Sandwich Co, said Insomnia Coffee had taken a bite out of his branding of a "vegan chick*n fillet roll".

He has sold the sandwich at his market stall since the summer.

On Tuesday, Insomnia launched a similar sandwich, branding it with the same name including the asterisk.

Responding to claims it had copied Mr Pearson's idea, the company tweeted: "Just like there are many variations of the hamburger, BLT & other well known foods, our vegan take on the chicken fillet roll is no exception.

"The position is very simple Insomnia did not steal anyone's recipe."

A spokeswoman added: "Although we were not aware of any other similar type of product launched this year we now know others have created versions as early as 2017 and certainly believe we won't be the last and welcome competition into the market."

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The chicken fillet roll - breaded chicken in a baguette with choice of salad and sauce - is extremely popular in the Republic of Ireland and Mr Pearson's vegan version received considerable publicity, with Irish broadcaster RTE describing its launch as having received a "near rapturous response".

Mr Pearson stressed to BBC News NI he "didn't invent the vegan chicken sandwich" but said Insomnia's marketing and lack of acknowledgement of his version, which is made with a seitan fillet and vegan accompaniments, was "a blow to my business".

Image source, Vegan Sandwich Co
Image caption,
Sam Pearson operates a market stall selling vegan food twice a week

He said he contacted the company privately on social media after seeing their tweet, but got no response.

Irish firm Insomnia, which runs 150 coffee shops across the UK and Ireland, later tweeted out that the menu was part of a "programme to expand our vegan offerings" and that it was "confident there is a market for us all", a tweet that Mr Pearson labelled as "severely bad".

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Mr Pearson said he has since held some discussions with Insomnia and been told that they would change the branding, with the company tweeting that it would "adjust our packaging as our promotion goes forward".

However, Mr Pearson maintained that he would like public acknowledgement of his sandwich.

"They say it was an accident, but they should give a shout-out to an Irish producer. Then it would all blow over," he said.

"I don't feel, and the people who've supported me don't feel, that they've really recognised or understood what they've done wrong."

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Mr Pearson, who quit his job in communications recently to go full time with his food business , said Insomnia's response "has not helped them".

"After it initially blew up, I had a call from them," he said.

"They made a commitment to change the name. But there's been no public 'we got it wrong' comment, or any recognition. I don't need them to grovel, but I just don't feel like they've acknowledged me or my business."

He added: "There's a lot of power in stepping back and saying 'we made a mistake'."

No, really - is the chicken fillet roll Ireland's most iconic dish?

Chicken sandwiches - unsophisticated, interchangeable, the same the world over. Right? Wrong - not if you're Irish and not when it comes to the chicken fillet roll.

The sandwich has attained a unique cultural significance in Ireland - part lunchtime favourite, part uniting force bringing together office-bound executives, labourers and hung-over students alike.

It may sound simple - breaded chicken in a baguette with choice of sauce and salad - but the Irish chicken fillet roll can't be obtained just anywhere.

Ask Irish TV presenter Laura Whitmore, who vocalised the frustration of a thousand salivating ex-pats a few years ago, when she tweeted about the inability to get one in London.

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So how come a chicken sandwich has come to be considered quintessentially Irish, lauded from Dublin to Dungarvan?

Their ubiquity and availability helps - as Vegan Sandwich Co's Sam Pearson says, in Ireland there's the "sheer number of hot food delis in just about every place there could be a hot food deli".

And they all sell the chicken fillet roll.

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Their versatility is another factor - as Mr Pearson explains, people can have it whatever way they want.

"Everyone in Ireland has their perfect chicken fillet roll. What sauce goes with it, what salad, whether there's cheese," he said.

"No one has the same one. So it's become this iconic Irish dish, I guess, because it's so personal."