Q&A: Warrens Bakery chairman Mark Sullivan on cracking the high street

Mark Sullivan, chairman

The world’s oldest pasty maker Warrens Bakery this week opened its first site in London and revealed its bold ambitions to open 1,000 stores in the UK over the next few years. Chairman Mark Sullivan discusses why the Cornwall-based outfit’s time has come to be a national player.

What does the arrival of Warrens Bakery in London mean to the business?

We are well known by tourists who visit the West Country, many of whom have asked us to open up near them. Now, with our expansion drive, we are doing just that. London is a very special part of this journey; it’s symbolic. By establishing stores at the heart of the capital, we’re showing that we are serious about taking affordable craft bakery to the nation, from authentic scones and cakes, fresh sandwiches made with West Country breads, hand-crimped pasties, to gourmet sausage rolls and so much more.

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What do you feel Warrens Bakery will bring to the capital city which sets it apart from other bakeries?

Tradition and authenticity. As the original Cornish bakery, our award-winning British products are made daily by a team of master bakers, many of whom have been with us their whole careers. Eight have 240 years’ service between them. Our biscuits appear in John Lewis hampers, our Christmas pudding beat Harrods in a national competition last December, while our hot pasties and savouries are world class. That is why we’ve been recognised as one of the UK’s top three craft bakeries twice in the past three years.

Why do you think there has been such a resurgence in popularity in British baking?

At its heart is a love of good food and a fascination with all things creative. Anyone can bake at home; you don’t need lots of kit, just the basics, with a bit of TLC sprinkled in. Bake Off has captured this beautifully on screen, while we have been doing this with customers at the coalface for 157 years, innovating constantly. Recently, we have pioneered ranges of novel pasties, with innovation including vegan and gluten-free, while our festive range is always tasty and fun, including the back-by-popular-demand mince pie and custard pasty and brand new ‘boozy woozy’ belgium buns.

We employ over 600 people and take our products out to numerous counties, day-in day-out, which requires consistency and reliability

Warrens has recently been recognised as one of the UK’s top three British craft bakeries in the Bakery Industry Awards 2017, what does it mean to you to be in this category among much smaller independents?

It’s a massive endorsement. We employ over 600 people and take our products out to numerous counties, day-in day-out. This requires consistency and reliability, qualities that have served us well for over 150 years. As a full-spectrum bakery, we produce everything from craft breads (and fresh sandwiches based on them), indulgent scones and treats, hot savouries and pasties. There are some lovely boutique bakeries, which operate from one or two stores with a limited product range, while we want to be embracing and take craft bakery out to the community at large.

Why do you think the signature Cornish pasty has stood the test of time?

Simplicity and honesty. It is literally a ‘meal in one’ concept and perhaps the ultimate food on the hoof. An authentic hand-crimped Cornish pasty is an artisan product that contains quality skirt beef and vegetables, cooked fresh in their own juices in the mini-oven that is the pasty. Carefully seasoned to our traditional recipe, it amounts to a wholesome tasty meal at a very reasonable price.

Warrens Bakery is working with Martha Collison, the youngest ever finalist on the Great British Bake Off. Why was she such an obvious choice to help uncover the craft in British baking?

Like Warrens Bakery, she’s the real deal. Martha is passionate about baking and taking it out to the nation. She’s warm, friendly and authentic. Martha is also a hugely dedicated practitioner, who has fine-tuned her skills and is now in full flow, demonstrating creativity and innovation at every turn.  Our values are totally aligned and we are proud to have her as our partner.

Warrens Bakery shop

Where would you like to see Warrens Bakery in five years’ time?

Established as the nation’s craft bakery of choice. In every city and town, we aim to be the automatic port of call for authentic bakery, whatever the place, whatever the need. We want all our customers across the UK to be immersed in our traditions, to understand that what they’ve enjoyed was handmade by someone who took pride in it. You will see real variations in our products because they’re truly artisan and lovingly handcrafted, not mechanically produced widgets from fast-moving conveyer belts. In a world of robots and automation, let’s not forget that people and emotions make it all worthwhile.

What one thing might people be surprised to know about Warrens Bakery?

We have our origins in a unique Cornish love story that goes back a century and a half. Now, arguably, we are the UK’s leading craft bakery, as well as being the World’s oldest pasty maker.  We are unparalleled in terms of our awards, history, product breadth, master baker skills, tradition and so much more. At heart, we’re still a community baker, taking authentic British bakery out to everyone, selling affordable luxuries with a smile.

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