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How food and drink manufacturers in Wales utilise Welsh Government support

By William Dodds

- Last updated on GMT

Henllan Bakery was one of more than 100 food and drink firms at BlasCymru / TasteWales. Credit: Henllan Bakery
Henllan Bakery was one of more than 100 food and drink firms at BlasCymru / TasteWales. Credit: Henllan Bakery

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Across two days at BlasCymru / TasteWales last month (October 2023), Food Manufacture spoke to a raft of food and drink manufacturers about the support they have received from the Welsh Government.

Held at the International Conference Centre Wales (ICC Wales) in Newport, BlasCymru / TasteWales is a bi-annual international food and drink trade event organised by the Welsh Government.

As numerous manufacturers in attendance told Food Manufacture, the event is an ideal opportunity to meet buyers from around the world, with several firms reporting that they had picked up new business at its previous iteration in 2021. Buyers present included national and international retailers, foodservice and hospitality businesses and independent retailers.

Hybu Cig Cymru (HCC) or Meat Promotion Wales is a body that supports the red meat supply chain in Wales and is wholly-sponsored by the Welsh Government. Its funding comes from the Welsh farmer and processor levy, with that money put back into promoting the red meat produced in Wales.

This levy allows us to market the goods, create and develop markets in Wales and overseas and act as a facilitator across the supply chain​,” Rachael Madeley-Davies, head of sustainability and future policy at HCC, told Food Manufacture.

We cover the whole supply chain from the farms to auction houses and processors, to retailers and foodservice. The support can include advice on sustainability, NPD, improving efficiency and providing access to new markets​.”

There are currently 12,000 red meat levy payers in Wales, with the organisation encompassing lamb, beef and pork producers. While at trade events like BlasCymru / TasteWales, Madeley-Davies looks to make connections between Welsh red meat producers and the buyers in attendance.

She continued: “We will get leads at these events and then pass this information down to processors that are suited and give them all a chance to have a conversation. Throughout this process, we can provide support and technical knowledge to ensure the suppliers have what they need​.”

Selling Wales to the world

South Caernarfon Creameries (SCC) is the largest farmer-owned dairy co-operative in Wales, with a current membership base of more than 160 farmers. It is currently in the middle of expansion at its creamery in Chwilog, North Wales, which will take its capacity from 17,000 tonnes to 23,000 tonnes of cheese per year.

The Welsh Government has been really supportive of us, providing £5m in funding for the expansion as part of the food business investment scheme​,” marketing manager Kristie Jones told Food Manufacture from the SCC stall at BlasCymru / TasteWales.

The improvement project should be finished by the end of the year, with the work focused on the waste management and the increasing the number of cheese lines and vats for milk collection.”

The cheese produced by SCC is sold in part under its Dragon brand, which makes up around 15% of the business, with the rest sold to retailers, wholesalers and foodservice businesses as own-label. Meanwhile, around 10% of its business comes through export markets, where Jones believes the “made in Wales label acts as a really big selling point​”.

The Government supported us in attending the 2023 Fancy Food Show in New York, which led to us expanding into America where we have seen the value of brand Wales and Welsh cheese,” ​Jones explained.

Another business that has benefitted from the value of ‘brand Wales’ abroad is Welsh Lady Preserves, a third-generation family business based in Pwllheli in North Wales since 1966. The brand originated through the sale of lemon curd but has since massively extended its offering to include mustards, sauces, ketchups and special occasion curds.

Today, Welsh Lady employs 24 people on the same site where it all began. Its products are listed in Tesco, Co-op, Morrisons and Waitrose across Wales, while two of its curds have been named Supreme Champions at the Great Taste Awards.

The Welsh Lady logo features a women in traditional dress, an identity that general manager Carol Jones, who operates the business alongside husband Jon, believes has “helped the brand prosper​”. For much of its existence, private label work made up the vast majority of the manufacturer’s business but this has changed dramatically in recent times.

The Welsh Lady brand has grown from being 8% of the business to 27% of the business in the past year​,” Jones recalled.

The family began exporting to Japan as early as 1978, with the US, Canada, Australia and much of Europe becoming export destinations since. Export now makes up around 20% of Welsh Lady’s business and Jones is constantly in search of find new markets with help from the Welsh Government.

Events like BlasCymru / TasteWales make meeting buyers affordable, smooth and easy to organise​,” she said.

The Government also help with trade missions – this year we went to Tokyo and New York and I was able to get new business on both occasions. Joining the export cluster has been a huge help too as it allows us to gain knowledge about how to get a message across effectively​.”

Promoting products made with care

Henllan Bakery, based in Denbigh, North Wales, is a fifth-generation family business that cares deeply about its heritage. While the manufacturer opened a second site in 2019, separating the production of bread and cakes, director Ed Moore is passionate about honouring its handmade, craft bakery heritage.

Our heritage and handmade style is our point of difference​,” Moore told Food Manufacture.

Working for us is totally different to working for a corporate bakery​.”

Marrying this traditional way of working with producing 10,800 rolls and 1,200 loaves an hour is highly labour intensive, but Henllan was able to leverage support from the Welsh Government to grow its team. In 2009, when it first applied for assistance, the bakery employed just 32 people, but that number is now approaching 140.

The business has grown considerably with the Government’s support​,” Moore added.

In recent years, Henllan was awarded a grant to open up a new canteen for staff and to invest in machinery that could supplement its baking processes. The business has expanded into South Wales and northwest of England as a result, and now supplies Tesco, Morrisons, Asda, Co-op across Wales.

Export is a small but growing area of interest for the bakery and events like BlasCymru / TasteWales have allowed them to find buyers in Hong Kong, Japan, China, Canada and the US. Moore is keen to explore this opportunity further, but re-emphasised that the bakery would continue to retain its sense of tradition.

We know what we are capable of delivering and we have learned to stick to our strengths,” ​he said.

“We understand what volumes and varieties we can deliver and we don’t want to compromise on what makes the business unique.​”

At the other end of the spectrum, Jones Trust Your Gut is a far younger business but one that also places a great level of importance on the quality of its produce. Founded in 2020, Anna Jones manufactures a range of fermented products on her family farm in Usk, Monmouthshire, and has enjoyed plenty of success in a short space of time.

At BlasCymru / TasteWales in 2021, her Welsh Kimchi won the most exciting new product award and the business has since expanded into a series of premium farm shops and delis. Jones Trust Your Gut also has a healthy Instagram following which has helped Jones develop a successful e-commerce platform.

Jones started by making cider vinegars before expanding into other live fermented foods such as the aforementioned kimchi, slaw, kraut and pickles. As the name suggests, Jones is passionate about gut health and is keen to showcase the products to more and more people.

You have to be totally flexible, but right now I want to keep growing my director to consumer model and maintain strong relationships with my existing retailers​,” she told Food Manufacture.

As a small business, Jones has received support from the Welsh Government with creating a business plan and marketing strategy, and said that she feels “capable of reaching out when I need support​”.

In other news, Food Manufacture spoke to a Welsh beermaker about its recent move into the UK’s largest non-alcoholic brewery​.

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