COBS Bread Plans Significant Multi-Year Canadian Store Expansion: Interview

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COBS Bread is looking to aggressively expand its footprint across Canada in the next few years.

The company’s first COBS Bread location was in North Vancouver in 2003. The concept originated about 45 years ago in Australia as Bakers Delight.

“We continue to grow and expand with a focus on franchising,” said Brad Bissonnette, VP of Marketing and Franchising with COBS Bread. “What really truly hasn’t changed over the 45 years is our value proposition which is to deliver a very high quality product with outstanding customer service and ensuring that we also take care of the communities that we do business in by franchising with local franchisees and donating all of our leftover bread and baked treats to various charitable organizations across Canada.”

Brad Bissonnette

The company currently has 128 locations in six provinces. It has 26 commitments to open new locations in Canada over the next year.

“We had some incredible momentum prior to COVID. We were trending along very, very well with same store sales growth in and around six percent. Transaction growth at three percent. COVID ultimately hit back in March of last year and there was a significant amount of uncertainty for a couple of weeks there. But what we found over the last year in the way that Canadian consumer habits have changed has really allowed for the stars to align for our brand. Consumers are now eating more at home,” said Bissonnette.

“There seems to be a stronger effort to really take care of our communities which truly is part of the DNA of COBS Bread. There’s significant opportunity here with changing consumer demand and a need for fresh baked bread and treats. What we’ve found whether it’s through a recession or the global pandemic is that demand for bread and baked treats is a staple. It’s an essential. And it’s never been stronger.

“Over the last 52 weeks, we’ve been very pleased with the performance of our bakeries. We went from about six percent store sales before the pandemic and now same store sales is close to 17 percent.”

Average transaction has also grown slightly in the past year.

“We believe the market in Canada can support anywhere from 400 to 500 locations. Currently we haven’t put an exact number on where we want to expand but we do think we can double our footprint in the next five years,” said Bissonnette. “We believe we can be anywhere between 20 to 30 openings a year for the next four to five years.

Interior of COBS Bread store on Bloor Street, Toronto. Photo: Dustin Fuhs

“Since March of last year, we’ve had 37 commitments to either open a new location or to purchase an existing location. We currently have 26 commitments to open new franchises and have sealed deals in a lot of great markets across the country.

Photo: Dustin Fuhs

“The overwhelming interest in the COBS Bread brand has never been higher. What we’re very proud of is the brand’s ability to not only be able to provide fresh, high-quality products and great customer service, but we’re also very proud of the fact that the brand has been able to deliver a very healthy return to our franchisees. As well, with operating profit really driving high since the global pandemic, and because of all those consumer trends, we don’t feel it’s going to subside significantly post pandemic. Our current rolling 12-month operating profit is $263,000 and so when you take into consideration that the average build is between $700,000 and $750,000, the average franchisee is getting a return on their investment in just under three years. I don’t think there’s too many brands out there that can articulate and create a return like that.”

He said the company is seeing incredible growth in the Ontario market.

Recently, COBS launched a pilot for its new program called COBS Club which is a digital loyalty program that will grow to more locations in the future.

“We have a saying at COBS Bread that we want to deliver a customer experience that cannot be matched. This is now transcending to ensuring that customers can ultimately order COBS Bread whether that’s in bakery or wherever and whenever they would like to purchase COBS Bread. So we’re now on a journey to deliver a customer experience that cannot be matched across all platforms including digital platforms,” said Bissonnette.

“With the pandemic, we really had to take a look at our business to ensure that we were positioned to work our way through the pandemic, deliver a high-quality product and good customer service. We also wanted to ensure that our customers had an avenue to order COBS Bread during the uncertainty. The global pandemic really expedited our work on the digital customer experience side. Early last year we started partnering with delivery companies to ensure customers could receive COBS Bread if they weren’t able to leave their homes.

“We also rolled out an online ordering platform as well. We (recently) rolled out our COBS Club which will in time become a fully-immersive club that provides loyalty and rewards for all of our amazing customers. We’re moving into the digital age when it comes to loyalty, transitioning from a COBS Bread club card to a digital loyalty program.”

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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