Cooplands and Sons – Bread for Success

Cooplands is a family baker whose history goes back to 1885. That family baker grew to become the second-largest bakery business in the UK today.

“The business has been family-owned and run until October 2019 when I joined as CEO,” explains Belinda Youngs, Cooplands’ CEO. “The business is born and bred in Scarborough and has expanded through both organic growth and acquisitions throughout Yorkshire, the North East and Lincolnshire.” Cooplands make, bake, and deliver all of its products fresh every day. We make everything but the drinks and the crisps!” Youngs says. “It’s made and baked across our three production sites in Durham, Hull and Scarborough. It’s grounded in good honest value with a strong focus on pride in how the product tastes.”

The other element of distinction Cooplands and Sons offers is its level of individual service.

“We don’t have any scripts in the store, we believe in knowing our communities, our locals and we believe in personalised service,” says Youngs.

Cooplands has built itself a strong brand and a reputation that goes back nearly 200 years, but it’s not a company to rest on its laurels. Talking with Youngs it’s clear she has big plans for the business.

“Going forward we intend to double the size of the business in five years, from 170 shops to 330, and expand our geographic footprint,” she tells us. “The challenge is making sure we make smart decisions at the right time as we grow.”

Rising Dough

This isn’t something Cooplands is going to be rushing into, the planning process is detailed and in-depth.

“We’re currently in the process of developing a five-year strategy. We have identified the key initiatives across all the areas of the business,” Youngs says. “We modelled organic growth and acquisitions as possible scenarios and identified a company structure with resilience beyond one sales channel.”

Indeed, Cooplands has widely diversified its offering to include the largest fleet of Food to Go vans in the market, as well as cafes, shops, and they are also working on developing retail partnerships with other organisations.

“Investing in talent internally and bringing in new skills & capabilities is important as well. We’re working on that at the moment to make the business stronger.”

Youngs insists that these achievements would not be possible without Cooplands’ partners and without understanding its customers.

“We value strong relationships with our suppliers, service providers and partners, we know we are only as strong as they are,” says Youngs.

“We have conducted detailed consumer research of what our customers think of us and their mindset. One of the first things you need to do when you come in to lead a business with ambition is to understand the health of your brand. I am very pleased with the result.”

Cooplands most valuable partner, however, remains its own people, and Youngs is passionate about having them involved in the company at every level.

“We are a people-powered business and will be prioritising building excellent two-way internal communication enabled by a new communication system launching this year,” Youngs says.

Youngs also points out the importance of developing their employment brand to become an employer of choice.

Return, Recover and Regenerate

Of course, a key challenge in recent months has been how to deal with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown. From the beginning, Youngs was determined to keep the business running.

“We had to shut down parts of the business, our cafes, our vans and our city-centre shops, but what I was determined to do is try to stay open and function through the pandemic because all the models show if you continue to trade, even in a shrunken size and capacity, you’re more likely to come out the other side quicker and stronger,” she says. “So we kept two-thirds of the business open. We were quite agile, we had three things that governed our decisions; the Safety of Staff, Serving the Community and Sustaining the business. I am sure we made mistakes, there is no handbook for a global pandemic, but we worked constantly to make the right decisions as the situation evolved.”

To keep functioning through the pandemic Cooplands put in safety measures across all its production sites, including Perspex screens, keeping staff two metres apart, providing employees with masks, one-way systems & temperature checking.

“In shops, we changed operational procedures, provided them with masks, we implemented social distancing in shops and had Perspex screens in place before any of the supermarkets did,” Youngs says.

“Across the business, we changed many ways of working and it still fills me with admiration today how our teams across the business adjusted and took their own initiative.”

Our regulatory partners in the fields of employment law and health and safety law played an important role in helping us to interpret the continually changing and evolving government advice and legislation”.

However, Youngs quickly realised that simply keeping the business functioning wasn’t enough.

“Within three days of lockdown we added to our operating model,” she says. “We started sourcing staple items like pasta, rice beans, meat, cheese, fruit, veg etc and developed our online capability for ordering food parcels for the community delivered straight to the door because a lot of vulnerable people were unable to get supermarket order slots or leave their home. We delivered over 1,200 food parcels. We asked our lorry drivers, who deliver to our shops, for volunteers. They delivered food parcels out into the community within 15 miles of each of our three production sites.”

It’s a project Cooplands put into action with no time to waste.

“That’s something we adjusted and adapted and had in place in five days,” she says.

“We also donated to care homes and hospitals and gave a 20% discount for NHS and emergency workers, including care workers who are often not included in these discounts.”

As businesses are beginning to look to the other side of the COVID-19 crisis, its clear Youngs is satisfied with what she’s learned about the business.

“It’s been a challenging time but has shown that we can be agile and resilient,” she says. “We’re proud of how resilient our team were, and as a lot of businesses have started to reopen after being closed for a long period of time it’s challenging to get up and running again but my team have adapted to the new normal quickly and more easily. We are now trading in full again with cafes and Vans and the Town and City Centres shops open. The market will continue to challenge us and be unpredictable for some months to come but one thing I am sure of is that I have the team across all parts of the business to continue to grow it and achieve its potential”

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