Historic Doncaster bakery Cooplands is back into production again

George Burdett.
George Burdett.

Three years ago, Doncaster was rocked by the news that one of its biggest employers was going into administration.

Hundreds of jobs were lost when Cooplands hit problems back in February 2015, with most of its shops closing, and its bakery on Wharf Road closing down.

Then in 2016, the firm hit problems again, going into administration for a second time. More jobs were lost.

But two years on, bosses at the firm believe things have started to turn around for a business whose name dates back to the 1930s.

Baking at the site has started again, although many products sold at the firm's shops are still bought in.

Now the firm has opened its first new shop since it first hit problems three years ago.

And managers are planning to open more shops this year, as they start to expand for the first time in years.

Today the firm is owned and run by businessman George Burdett. Mr Burdett has been in the baking business since getting a Saturday job filling doughnuts as a youngster in 1980, and has gone on to work for a number of high profile firms in the industry.

Having taken the firm on two years ago, he is optimistic for the future.

The scale of operation of the bakery is much smaller than it was three years ago. When Cooplands first went into administration, the company employed 500 people. Of those, 303 jobs were lost. The bakery itself employed around 200.

Today, the bakery employs around a dozen staff. In the long term that could increase, and Mr Burdett wants to bring production of more items back to Doncaster, rather than buying them in from other firms, which happens at present for its bread and pasties. The total Cooplands workforce is now around 140, with most of them at the firm's shops.

Cakes are already being baked in Doncaster again. The number of products has grown, since it first re-opened the bakery to make chocolate concrete. The Wharf Road bakery is also making the firm's biscuits.

The biscuits used by Doncaster Rovers for their mascot Donny Dog's 'dog biscuits', given out to children on match days, are made at Cooplands. There are plans for more commercial deals like that.

Mr Burdett said: "Shops are the main expansion plan at present. We have 29 at present, after it had gone down to 28 at one point. But we are back to actively looking and when the right sites come up we will pick them up.

"We opened one in Sutton in Ashtfield, near Mansfield, just before Christmas. We would like to see four more this year, with around eight of our existing shops refurbished.

"I think the number historically was in the 80s, and I think we could get back to that, but have to be mindful to make sure that we've got the infrastructure to do it.

"We are looking at sites in Doncaster."

Although the desire to produce more products in Doncaster is there, there are no plans at present to bring in any more baking equipment,which would be needed if the firm was to expand its production to bread and pasties.

Mr Burdett said: "Pasties are made for us to our specification. The investment to bring in the equipment we would need here would be high. It would be fantastic to bring it back here, but at present, all or any investment will be in shops and refurbishments."

Among the products now being created at Wharf Road are custom made cakes. They range from wedding cakes to birthday cakes, and recent creations have including unicorns and castles.

They are basing their business decisions on what they see at the tills. Sandwiches sold at the shop and cakes made will be based on what sells. New options are being put on the menu regularly, with the most recent a 400 calorie cajun chicken sandwich.

Another change that has been made is that the firm now looks at buying its stocks 'just in time'. It means it can react quicker to changes in the market.

Mr Burdett said: "We would like to have the bread we use in our sandwiches made here, but there are no plans yet. We will have to grow bit by bit , but the attention and the will is there.

"There is a good atmophere here and fantastic people. We're very proud of them, and many have been with Cooplands for a long time."

History

Cooplands first opened in Doncaster in 1931, with a shop on Hall Gate.

Alice Jenkinson set up the firm using her maiden name of Coopland and it grew to become one of Doncaster's biggest and most successful firms until it went into administration in 2015.

She opened the shop at 34 Hall Gate, selling homemade cakes, toffees and chocolate. In 1932 she started baking and selling bread. It was also during the mid-1930s that Cooplands introduced their two well-known trademarks - bow-fronted Georgian windows with bullseyes, and Olde English lettering to the company name.

By February 2010 group sales were £20 million from 86 outlets in Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire.