Born & Bread: Coughlan’s Bakery, Surrey

Now in its third generation, Coughlan’s Bakery has grown from a single store in Thornton Heath to 22 stores, a bakery headquarters and two mobile sites

Coughlan’s Bakery was founded in 1937, in the town of Thornton Heath, south London, by Jack Coughlan. The business started with a shop that, at the time, was called Farmers Bakery, and Jack also owned two restaurants in the area.

When he married his wife Elsie, who came from a family of bakers, he took over a few of her family shops, taking the total Farmers Bakery estate to six, before rebranding with the family name.

Jack’s children Peter, Christopher and Maureen joined the business during the 1950s.

Peter’s son, and current-generation director Sean, began working at the business during school holidays. He started out as a baker, and worked through a range of jobs, including cake decorating, driving and designing. His sisters Virginia and Jackie also work in the business as head of retail and company accountant, respectively.

Sean now oversees the entire business and develops new recipes each week. “All the recipes we use now are mine and, day to day, I teach the staff how to make the products to the highest standard, be it cakes, bread or pastry,” he says.

Sean is also the driving force behind the majority of the baked goods on offer at Coughlans being vegan. “Veganism was something I wanted to look into for myself and for my young family,” he explains. “We all need to cut down – everybody does. If everyone does a little bit, it will change the world.

“I’m proud people will find that over 90% of the products available are vegan, and that those who aren’t vegan wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.”

Coughlans has 22 retail shops and two mobile units, and products are freshly baked and delivered to stores twice daily. In 2013, Sean ended some of the business’ large-scale wholesale contracts, which he felt no longer fitted the  firm’s culture. “Big businesses wanted us to create products with cheap ingredients, and that’s not us,” he explains. “I like producing high-quality, fresh products and people were wanting that at a lower price point.”

Coughlans now produces bespoke products for a handful of wholesale clients who share its ethos.

Looking forward, with Brexit looming, Sean tells us he and the team have been working to protect the business by continuing to source ingredients locally.

“I never look too far ahead, I don’t think you can,” he says. “I’ll just continue to have fun, keep launching new products on a weekly basis because that’s what I enjoy, and keep staff motivated and excited.”

Timeline

  • 1937: Jack Coughlan sets up Farmers Bakery
  • 1930s: Jack marries Elsie and acquires some of her family’s shops, subsequently rebranding as Coughlans
  • 1950s: Their children, Peter, Christopher and Maureen, join the business
  • 1971: The current Coughlans bakery and HQ is established in Thornton Heath
  • 1990: Sean Coughlan (pictured above) joins the business full time
  • 2007: Coughlans rebrands as Munch
  • 2013: The business celebrates its 75th anniversary, and reverts back to its roots as Coughlans Bakery

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