Category Archives: Co-operative Funeralcare

If small is beautiful, look lovely

Thursday, 4 April 2013


There isn’t a single successful business in Britain that doesn’t seek to grow through mergers and acquisitions. Consolidation, they call it. It’s a factor of competitive capitalism. Or greed, if you prefer. Whichever. The bigger you are, the more efficiently you can trade. Efficiency enables you to bring your prices down, blow off competitors — and hey Tesco.  As Roberto Mancini, manager of Manchester City FC, would say, “Ees normal”.

So far so bad for Britain’s independent undertakers. Your days are surely numbered. Consolidation is under way. There’s no future for plankton in an ocean ruled by whales.

If you don’t believe it, consider the fate of our brewers. In 1900 there were 1,324 distinct beweries in England. By 1975 there were 141. Ees normal.

The technological development that made this possible was the invention of keg beers, which are sterilised and lifeless. They have a much longer life than living cask beers. They do not need to be kept so carefully, they can be transported for longer distances and they’re cheaper when they get there. Under the influence of advertising, consumers in the ’70s were easily persuaded to enjoy just a limited number of national brands. The little breweries could not afford to advertise. Older (elderly) readers of this blog will recall with misty eyes the halcyon days of Watney’s Red Barrel and Double Diamond, the Co-op and Dignity of their time.

The development which is making it possible today for the big players in the deathcare market to burn off the independents is, of course, the pay-now-die-later funeral plan whereby you stitch up tomorrow’s market share today. The adoption of embalming from America has arguably been a useful technology, too.

So what happened to Watney’s Red Barrel and Double Diamond, younger readers may ask. And where can I get some?

Well, just when the big brewers thought the field was theirs, something interesting happened. The Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) happened, the tables were turned and, sorry younger readers, the victorious keg beers were poured down the drains of history.

Camra’s campaign stimulated an appetite for well-made beers and choice. It appealed also to romantic values — and the great British pub is nothing if not steeped in nostalgia. In the words of James Watt, managing director of craft brewers BrewDog, “People want something better, something ethical, and something made by passionate people … I think there is growing disillusionment with products which are generic and mass-produced.”

He’s right, of course.  The total number of breweries in England is back up from 141 to around 700 and rising. Which is why Camra is credited as the most successful single-issue consumer campaign of all time. In economists’ jargon, economies of scale have been trumped by economies of scope (choice). The big brewers can’t compete with the micro-breweries, most of which brew a variety of ales, because the production of small batches of cask beers does not fit profitably into scale production operations.

Camra, you may think, restored beer to its Golden Age. You’d be wrong. One of the reasons why keg beers were able to gain such traction was because most small brewers back in the day made ale that was cloudy, sour and full of sediment. Pretty horrible stuff, much of it. Today’s micro-brewers are of a far higher calibre than their forebears. The Golden Age of ale is, in fact, now. Camra didn’t turn the clock back, it wound it forward.

Is it possible that Britain’s independent undertakers might buck economic orthodoxy in the same way as the micro-brewers and chase off the purveyors of keg funerals?

They have a lot going for them. Like the micro-brewers, and unlike makers of, say, artisan cheese, they can compete on price with the consolidated undertakers. Better still, so incompetent and greedy are the consolidated undertakers that indie undertakers are universally cheaper. It’s absurd! The big players could fight back by starting a price war — but the likelihood of their doing so seems small. The micro-brewers are able to compete because of Gordon Brown’s 2002 Progressive Beer Duty (alternatively known as Small Brewers Relief), a 50 per cent reduction in beer duty for those breweries producing less than 5,000 hectolitres of beer. Indie undertakers need no such leg-up.

A great many of today’s indies are as good as it gets and much better than the generality of smalltime undertakers of the past. They have a lot in common with our micro-brewers: they’re intelligent, savvy and skilful — a new breed. They are characterful, individualistic and very much their own people, a welcome contrast with the corporates who tend towards bland homogeneity in spite of some excellent staff at branch level.

Because indies are passionate business owners, they are prepared to work incredibly hard. They offer a service which is of and for their community. They offer a quality of personal service which is everything a funeral shopper could want. Personal service does not fit profitably into scale production operations. 

It is unlikely that a Camref (the Campaign for Real Funerals) could achieve for undertaking what Camra has achieved so rapidly for beer, the thirst for the latter being the stronger. What’s more, most funeral shoppers have no idea that there are such brilliant indies out there.

So it would be good, perhaps, to see our best indies walk with more of a strut, make more noise about what they do and take the fight to the keggists. A well-kept beer is good for drinkers; a well-kept secret is no use to funeral shoppers. 

ED’S NOTE: Real ales are brewed for all occasions and come with all manner of characterful names. They include: Tactical Nuclear Penguin, Bitter Bully, Posh Pooch, Festive Totty, Gonzo Porter, Ragged Bitch, Crop Circle, Summer Lightning, Bishop’s Farewell, Truffler Dry, Bad Elf, Torpedo Extra IPA, Naked Ladies, Storm King, Hop Wallop and Bonkers Conkers.

So far as we know, no maker of real/craft beer brews one specially for funeral wakes. There’s a big market here. If you can’t brew one, can you at least suggest a good name?

People’s undertaker doing fine

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Nail coffin

Wholly non-relevant photo


The Co-operative Group reports that, for the 53 weeks ended 5 January 2013, funerals revenue was up 6.4% to £348m, with operating profit up to £60m from £55m. 


Basket cases

Tuesday, 5 March 2013


A real Fair Trade coffin from Ecoffins


Here’s an interesting claim from The Co-operative Group

“The Co-operative has a long tradition of leading the way on fair trade and the launch of the first-ever Traidcraft endorsed fairly traded coffin range at our funeral homes is a natural, if unusual, progression.” 

This first-ever status is endorsed by Traidcraft:

Larry Bush, Marketing Director, Traidcraft, said: “We are delighted to be working in partnership with The Co-operative in a brand new area of fair trade.  We have a strong track record of working together with the Co-operative Group to launch fair trade firsts.’ 

The Co-op must have put out a press release about this (we can’t find it) because the story is everywhere. We pasted a sentence from the article into Google and it threw up 213 results, all of them, pretty much, newspapers. That’s a fantastic strike rate for a press release, a coup for the Co-op – and an insight into the quality of what we are urged to believe is bona fide news, not propaganda served up as news. 

The Daily Telegraph version of the ‘story’ further tells us that: 

‘Green funerals, where clients choose materials from sustainable sources and carbon emissions from the day are kept at a minimum, have grown by 20 per cent in recent years and are now worth more than £8 million.’   

Goodness only knows where they sourced those figures. The article goes on to tell us that:

The bamboo and willow coffins are made in Bangladesh, where communities are given a fair price and money goes toward schools and health care.

Although wooden coffins approved as “rainforest friendly” have been fashionable for some time, these are the first coffins to be designated “fair trade” by official certifiers.

Traidcraft, a charity that promotes Fairtrade around the globe, said the coffins are the first to bring in money and fair working practices to a community in the developing world.

An early version of the story states that these coffins are being sold by the Co-operative Group ‘as part of its ethical strategy’. A more relevant and pressing ethical strategy, we’d suggest, would be a rededication to foundational values and the provision of affordable funerals to the poor and the disadvantaged. 

Because we’ve been very busy here at the GFG Batesville-Shard we never got around to finding out what William Wainman at Ecoffins thinks about all this. After all, he has been selling fairtrade coffins for as long as anyone can remember. We assumed he might be cross. So we very grateful to those of you who sent in his riposte:

Ecoffins started manufacturing bamboo coffins in 1999 and is the only World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) manufacturer of coffins in the world. We were accredited as a member of the WFTO in 2007 following two rigorous independent assessments of our factory in China. This allows us to use the WFTO logo, providing a guarantee that we are Fair Trade suppliers. Additionally, all the companies which we buy products from outside the EU are also fully accredited members of the WFTO. 

This is absolutely not the case with those coffins Co-operative Funeralcare will now be selling. Their manufacturers are not WFTO accredited and therefore will not be able to claim Fair Trade status for their bamboo or willow coffins. They should also not make claims that imply that they are the first to do this in the UK. 

Copies of the WFTO assessors’ report on our own factory can be viewed at 

Are we to suppose that Co-op Funeralcare was ignorant of the Ecoffins accreditation? Or that they simply didn’t let it get in the way of a good story? 

As for those who credulously published the story, shame on your fact-checking. 

Hat-tip to MJ, DB and JU

Why did we delete that blog post?

Monday, 11 February 2013

This morning we received an email which had been forwarded in error by Mr Potts, Customer Relations Manager at The Co-operative Funeralcare, to a bereaved family – not we hasten to add one of the families referred to in the message – who forwarded it to us.  On reading it, we immediately deleted the blog post describing the incident referred to out of respect for the wishes of the families concerned.  We have redacted those parts of the email which indicate the location of the incident and the date of the press story; and those which reveal contact details. 

We thought the email worth publishing for its own sake – because it isn’t often we get an insight into what goes on in the engine room.


From: Neil Walker (CLS-Exec) 
Sent: 11 February 2013 09:11
To: Anna Osborne (CLS-Probate Consultants); Sanjeev Chahal (TS) (CLS-Probate Operations)
Cc: Ziad Shukri (TS) (CLS-Legal Advisory); Karen Morgan (CLS-Wills); Jon Potts (Funeralcare); David Collingwood (Funeralcare)
Subject: Incident within Funeralcare



Funeralcare had an incident in the  XXXXXXX    part of the country a few weeks ago.  As you would expect Funeralcare dealt with the matter in a sensitive and appropriate way with the 2 families involved; to the extent that neither family wanted anything to appear in the press.  Unfortunately the press in the local area published a story relating to the matter xxxxxxxxxxxx

In the unlikely event that the probate advisory team get questioned on the matter by a client who has any concerns whatsoever, could you please could you ensure that the client is offered the opportunity to receive a phone call from Co-operative Funeralcare.  Please could you ask your team members to capture name and contact details of the client and pass them onto yourselves as team managers? 

Could I then ask that you pass the client details onto Jon Potts, Customer Relations Manager, Funeralcare.  Please ensure that you follow up any e-mail with a phone call to ensure that Jon or a member of the team has picked up the details?  Jon’s contact details are: 




Fill in the blank

Friday, 8 February 2013



This post has been taken down in respect for the wishes of the families involved. 

Driving up personalisation to the next level

Thursday, 10 January 2013


This is The Cooperative Funeralcare’s new telly ad. Lorinda Robinson, Head of Marketing, The Co-operative Funeralcare, said: “The advert focuses on personalisation and The Co-operative Funeralcare’s ability to deliver personal touches to make a funeral more memorable and respectful. The business has been a pioneer in TV advertising in the funeral industry and the new advert highlights how, as the UK’s leading Funeral Director, we ensure that every funeral we arrange is completely personal and unique.”

Piece of mind for the man with the plan

Thursday, 22 November 2012


There’s an unsparing piece in The Times, 11 November, on financial products associated with funeral planning:

Hundreds of thousands of the poorest pensioners are losing thousands of pounds by buying into poor-value funeral planning products offered by some of the most trusted high street names.

Funeral benefit plans offered as add-ons to over-50s life insurance promise to help those aged between 50 and 80 to set aside a pot of money for their families to pay for their funeral … First, the majority of people who invest in over-50s plans end up paying in much more money than their relatives receive in the cash lump sum. Second, in many cases the funeral plan add-ons are assigned to particularly expensive funeral directors, and, finally, the lump sum payouts are not protected against inflation or linked to specific funeral costs so they are likely to cover only a small proportion of the cost of a future funeral.

Sales of over-50s policies rose 25 per cent between 2008 and 2010, with 346,128 people buying policies last year alone. Sun Life Direct, for example, has 750,000 such customers … This type of insurance policy does not have a “cash-in value” so policyholders often find themselves facing the dilemma of whether to continue to lose money paying premiums until they die or close the account and forfeit the cash lump sum.

The funeral benefit option on these products effectively assigns the cash lump sum to a funeral provider with whom it has a commercial deal, usually Dignity or the Co-operative.

Insurers are also pushing policyholders’ families towards funeral directors that charge the highest fees. The two main providers that arrange funerals as part of a funeral benefit add-on are Dignity and the Co-operative.

Dignity and the Co-operative argue that it is worth paying more for their service … A spokesman for Dignity says: “Dignity provides an allinclusive service with no hidden extras.”  A spokesman for the Co-operative says: “The Co-operative provides customers, and their families, with the invaluable peace of mind afforded by planning for their funeral in advance. We believe that, when compared on a like-for- like basis our charges are fair and reasonable and highly competitive for the standard of service that we provide.”

Age UK, an organisation that helps the elderly, has been accused of exploiting its reputation to sell unnecessarily costly funeral plans. A former senior employee of Age Concern is critical of these plans. He believes that Age UK is trading on its good name to sell overpriced products to vulnerable pensioners. He says: “Age UK uses its local branches as a route to a market where it can sell its branded products. Very often it is the less well-off pensioners using day care centres that are sold these products. Age UK funeral plans are particularly poor value because they encourage families to use expensive funeral directors rather than a cheaper local director.”

Age UK’s unholy alliance with Dignity brings in something like £9 million a year. 

The last point the article makes is that funeral plan funds are not regulated by the FSA. Did you know that? Ah, you always assumed they must be. Well, they’re not; they’re regulated by the Funeral Planning Authority — whose shareholders are trade associations for pre-paid funeral plan companies, creating a conflict of interest.

Coming soon: more thoughts about the ticking time bomb of the pre-paid funeral plan. In the meantime, stash it under the mattress. 


Pay up or else

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Ian Godfrey’s brother Michael died intestate aged 40 in August of this year. His funeral arrangements were undertaken by Ian’s sister, Sally. The chosen funeral director was the Nailsea branch of Co-operative Funeralcare, who duly prepared an estimate. Click on it to bring it up to full size (Sally’s full name and address have been redacted): 




The funeral went ahead and, throughout, the people at Nailsea weren’t just exemplary, they were lovely.

Ian and Sally did not have ready funds to pay for Michael’s funeral but they explained (this happens all the time, doesn’t it?) that there was money tied up in assets which would have to be sold. 

They explained this also to Michael’s credit card company, who froze his account and will add no further interest payments to the outstanding sum. They, together with Michael’s other creditors,  are happy to wait until funds are available. “We understand that these things take time,” they all said. 

All, that is, except for Co-operative Funeralcare who, Ian tells me, are “threatening to sue my sister, who paid the deposit and is therefore now considered to be the customer.” There have been demanding letters. Here is the latest demanding  letter. Again, click on it to brig it up to full size. 




The staff at Nailsea have continued to be sympathetic and helpful. It’s the people at “‘credit control’ or whatever they like to call themselves” who are, Ian and Sally feel, being very hard-nosed. Ian adds: “it is on the phone that the threat to sue was more explicit – however they do make it clear that they will not hesitate to do that in their letter.” 

Ian and Sally are desperately anxious about Funeralcare’s behaviour and feel that, though they have kept in constant touch and tried to keep them informed, they simply haven’t been listened to. They don’t want to be sued and they don’t think it’s right that they should be sued. But they don’t know who they can speak to in the organisation to ask for the time they need to liquidate Michael’s assets. 

In their position, what would you do? 






Tuesday, 9 October 2012


From a Co-operative Funeralcare press release:

Staff at The Co-operative Funeralcare in Copson Street are holding an open day between 10am to 2pm for residents to find out more about the work of a funeral director.

The horse-drawn hearse and  Only Fools and Horses’ fan hearse will be on display to illustrate how funerals can be tailored to individual needs and can help reflect the life of the deceased. A jazz band and piper will also be present, as other examples of how funerals can be personalised.

Visitors will be offered a guided tour of the funeral home, which features an arranging room and a remembrance room, be able to ask questions and view the distinctive hearses.

This is not the first open day Funeralcare has staged recently. They held one at Crouch End in September with the same format. The words of the press release are mostly interchangeable, showing how such a communication can be personalised. “Visitors will be offered a guided tour of the funeral home, which features an arranging room and a remembrance room.”

 They held one at Stockton, too: “It was a huge success,” said Manager David Knowles. “Around 60 people came throughout the day and were given a guided tour of the funeral home, which features an arranging room and three remembrance rooms.”

 The Good Funeral Guide applauds this spirit of openness. We think it will go a long way towards demonstrating to funeral shoppers that their dead will be beautifully looked after when in the tender care of Co-operative Funeralcare. 


A syphilitic blister on the face of funeral service

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Dear Mr Greenfield,

This has been a horrible week for you. 

Or has it? 

You will have by now appraised your reputational vulnerability, conducted a jeopardy assessment and learned how many people watched The British Way of Death.  Taking heart from the recovery of Co-operative Funeralcare, you may be reckoning your best move is to lie low and wait for the storm to pass. 

You could get lucky. 

Judging by your combative response to the film, you are not a man to roll over easily. Your clear-eyed intellect and tenacity may have calmed your investors, and this may well have been your priority. But how’s your conscience? Do you feel shamed and dishonoured? You displayed no compassion towards those bereaved people who must live with what has been done to them. Your repeated apology, offered without reservation (whatever that means), lacked (I feel) the heartfelt sincerity with which an apology must necessarily be invested. 

You did not give the impression of a man suffering from either remorse or a trashed reputation. I can only put that down to a diminished sense of jeopardy. 

The film’s revelations call into question your competence to run a business. That must hurt. You repose much of your defence in company policies designed to prevent the conduct we witnessed. A policy, Mr Greenfield, is so much hot air, wishful thinking and bumf in a boxfile if it is not supported by a regime of compliance. 

I was unable to watch the film until two days after it was broadcast so I expected, having heard the views of others, to be angered by the behaviour of the staff at Gillman’s. I wasn’t, but I concede that mine is a minority opinion. I was saddened. I witnessed the behaviour of people whose personal standards had been, in my view, corrupted by the culture of their workplace – they had lost touch with decency and right conduct. I am inclined to suppose that a much better version of these same people might have been apparent had they been working for a firm whose vision, values and working conditions they bought into and were proud of, and whose insistence on high standards was reinforced by a rapid-response disciplinary framework. That you should have reckoned Merv Moyes a fit person to be general manager is beyond baffling. You’ve got some great people working for you. Don’t you know the difference? 

Can you tell us, Mr Greenfield, why you opted for brand invisibility? You know perfectly well that the FPL/FSP brand has virtually zero public recognition. The funeral industry is ripe and ready for a great brand to roll out a great service. As we like to say here, if John Lewis did funerals… 

An unexpected upside to the sullying of the good name of Roger Gillman is that any undertaker presently contemplating selling up would have to be mad to include their own name in the sale. So here’s a backhanded compliment: you have played an important part in the cause of transparency of ownership. 

I’ll finish with some reflections by Rory Sutherland on the price of a good reputation. This is extracted from something he wrote in the Spectator on 21 July 2012. Mr Sutherland is vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK.

Reputation acts as a kind of cashless deposit in human dealings. As any mafioso or game theorist knows, you can only trust people who have something to lose.

Look at where capitalism works best and you’ll find a business sensitive to shame. 

I recently arranged for my family to fly to the US. What struck me when I clicked ‘buy’ on the BA website is that I now feel less anxious when paying an airline a few thousand quid to hurtle my family across Arctic wastelands in a tin tube than I do when handing £2,000 to a financial institution. Why does the aviation industry make very little money doing something immensely complicated astoundingly well, while the finance sector makes a fortune doing a simple thing badly?

There are a few game-theoretic reasons to explain this. Reputation is one. When even a minor aviation incident occurs, it makes headlines. There is also a healthy sharing of risk. Unlike banks, airlines make the pilot sit at the front of the plane.

Intensifying consumer scrutiny, together with exposés like Undercover Undertaker and The British Way of Death, are contributing incrementally to enhancing the reputational vulnerability of undertakers, especially those stealth consolidators whose brand dares not speak its name.

Whereabouts are you sitting on your plane, Mr Greenfield? Yes, and you Mr Tinning? And you, Mr McCollum? And you, Ms Kemp?



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