Could Yorkshire’s Cooplands be about to take abite out of Greggs’ domination of the North-East bakery market?

FOLLOWING the demise of Durham-city based Peters Bakery, 22 of its North-East stores were this week sold to a family-run bakery chain.

Cooplands, of Scarborough, now has nearly 140 stores in the North after developing its estate in the past two years by capitalising on the collapse of weaker rivals.

In 2007, it bought 34 of Hull-based Skeltons’ shops and added 18 ex-Woodhead Bakery branches in April last year.

So can it succeed where Peters failed?

Graham Soult, a North- East retail consultant who has his own blog analysing the picture on the high street, said Cooplands was well-placed to continue to thrive, even despite the presence in the areas it is moving into of what he called the “ever impressive Greggs juggernaut”.

Mr Soult said that although administrators KPMG blamed factors such as the rising costs of raw materials and an increasingly tough retail environment on Peters’ administration last month, there were other reasons for its demise.

“Unusually for a retail administration, the quality of Peters’ offer appears not to have been an issue; on the contrary, my impression is that the business had a really good reputation for its products,” he said.

“However, traditional bakery shops focusing on bread and cakes have come under immense pressure from the big supermarkets’ instore bakery operations, which offer customers’ products of comparable quality and freshness as part of their convenient weekly shop.

“Against this backdrop, the successful bakers are those who have targeted the fast food and lunchtime trade that has become Greggs’ staple or have branched out into cafes, as Cooplands has.”

Mr Soult said scale in the bakery sector was important in terms of managing costs and passing on savings to the consumer and while Peters’ had peaked at more 70 branches, its store count had recently dwindled to fewer than 60.

Meanwhile, Cooplands had been moving in the opposite direction, while Greggs’ has more than 1,500 shops and rising.

Peters’ heartland – County Durham and Tyne and Wear – also pitted it directly against Greggs, meaning it “could hardly have had a worse footprint”, said Mr Soult.

He added: “Within the past year, I understand that Peters was quietly marketing some of its shop locations to rivals, but that many of these sites had the specific problem of being very close to Greggs’ branches.

“By being able to pick and choose the best locations from the Peters’ estate, as well as having extra scale and muscle in the marketplace, Cooplands should be well placed to make a go of the shops that it has acquired – even in the face of the ever-impress Greggs juggernaut."