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Cheers to the Heroes

In difficult times like these, small acts of kindness, a positive outlook or an unbreakable resilience can make the world of difference. So what can we, at taste.blas, do to help? We can highlight some of the fantastic work being done by the people of the Welsh food and drink industry. Cheers to them all!

It’s that time of year again. The trees are clinging to the last of their leaves, tractors have been harvesting furiously in the fields and Wales should be in the midst of a hearty season of food and drink festivals.

However, we are facing a long and difficult winter as coronavirus resurges. During times of hardship the very best elements of human nature can prevail. In years to come, we will remember the heroes of the coronavirus era: the health workers, the posties, the bin men, and the Welsh food and drinks companies.

Cider at your door

In 2008, Ben Culpin started making cider with his late stepfather, Jimmy McConnel. It tasted so good that they decided to see what others thought. And so Apple County Cider Co. was born. They went on to win ‘The Great Taste awards for Wales’ two years running – a first for cider – and remain the only cider company to achieve this.

When the pandemic struck, Apple County Cider Co was hit hard. Culpin said: ‘We were down 90% on sales. All our clients are hotels, restaurants and bars and shops and they simply have not been reordering.’

But their spirit would not be dampened. During the lockdown, they started offering deliveries – and sales rose by 300%. And despite all the stress and worry for their own livelihoods, they went above and beyond to support our NHS heroes, pledging ten per cent of takings to the NHS. Now, they’re looking forward to a busy Christmas!

Dairy for the disadvantaged

Castle Dairies is a family run business that has been churning cream on the edge of Caerphilly for over 40 years. During lockdown, they were able to continue producing and increase their work with local charities. Just one of these many charities is the Huggard Homeless Centre.

“With other businesses unable to support the [homeless] centre as much as they previously could, we knew how important a contribution would be to them during these difficult times,” said Fayebe Hyman, Castle Dairies Marketing Executive.

They are allocating two per cent of profits each year to social, community and environmental projects. One of these is Community Foundation Wales, which supports young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

During the lockdown they also donated butter to food blogger, Paul Brown, who made and delivered over 2000 free meals for NHS staff.

The gift of marmalade

Radnor Preserves is a mid-Wales artisan preserves company who are expanding (yes expanding!) during the pandemic. In the past year, they have won multiple awards including a gold medal at the World Marmalade Awards and a Great Taste Award.

The company was honoured at The Great British Food Awards 2020 for their hand-cut Lime & Laver Marmalade and was dubbed overall winner of the Sweet Preserve Category. They subsequently secured export deals with Asia and the Middle East. To keep up with demand, the business has moved to larger premises in Newtown.

Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, said: “It shows that Welsh food and drink businesses can continue to thrive in these challenging times.”

Morgan began making preserves in 2010 when she lived in a cottage with no electricity. She now leads an all female-team who make each product by hand. Radnor Preserves supports local food banks and this year is supporting The Marmalade Trust which combats loneliness.

Joanna Morgan, Director said: “Many customers have written to us to say that our preserves have been a highlight during lockdown and the only thing keeping them going – which is the greatest praise of all.”

Diversifying the distillery

The first whisky was distilled at the foot of the famously breathtaking Aber Falls waterfall over 100 years ago. And Aber Falls Distillery is not about to let a pandemic stop them now.

The distillery produces handcrafted whiskys, gins and liqueurs, using sustainably sourced ingredients and Welsh-inspired botanicals.

During the pandemic, they not only ensured their production continued, they’ve also been busy forming alliances with other Welsh food and drink companies. Collaborations have included two new flavours of ice cream for Môn ar Lwy and a special gin produced for Portmeirion.

They’ve been providing local organisations with their own specially manufactured hand sanitiser – free of charge. Visitors and staff at The Welsh Mountain Zoo, Conwy council, Zip World and Halen Mon all have Aber-clean hands! Their new visitor centre is due to open soon, they’ve been hiring staff and distillery tours are up and running.

James Wright, Managing Director said: “Despite the uncertainty due to the pandemic, at Aber Falls we continue to be ambitious and put our community front and centre.”

Saying ‘diolch’ to loyal customers

Untapped Brewing Co was formed in 2009 when friends, Owen Davies and Martyn Darby began renting kit in another brewery. They moved to their own premises in Raglan in 2013.

“Our intention was, and still is, to make classic beer styles with a modern sensibility. To date, we have 10 beers in our range - 7 in our core range from extra pales to stout, and 3 in our Premium range, an IPA, a Saison and a Crystal wheat beer,” said Davies.

When the lockdown began, Untapped lost all their trade customers and 70% of their income in one hit. But – they have a brewery shop that sells direct to the public.

“Within a week of lockdown starting, our regular customers called asking if we were going to be ok, and if we were staying open. They bought from us, told their neighbours and, before long, we had people shopping for their street with us. Our online sales went bananas!”

To show thanks for their loyal customers’ ‘stunning support’. Untapped brewed a one-off beer just for the people who had shopped with them during the pandemic, named Diolch.

Diolch has been so popular that they’ve decided to keep making it until Christmas and open up sales “to try to keep a smile on people's faces!”

The virtual vineyard

Every year Welsh vineyards get together to promote their wines over the course of just one week. Wine Week usually marks the start of summer, taking place at the end of May. This year it was postponed to the end of July. They needed time to prepare for a Wine Week with a difference…

“[We did] virtual wine tastings live on Instagram – a first but what a success!” said Nicola Merchant, Co-owner of White Castle Vineyard near Abergavenny.

White Castle Vineyard joined local business hub, See No Bounds. Together with a local award winning pub, they held virtual wine tasting and food pairing events. Wines could be purchased in advance along with a takeaway pub meal – all to be enjoyed at a virtual tasting session.

“It is something we had to learn,” said Merchant. “We used Instagram to advertise our evenings with live videos in the vineyard showing the wines we were planning to taste, [those] purchased ahead of the evening. We had great reviews which have led to an increase in new and returning custom.”

“2020 has certainly changed the White Castle Vineyard works. We still believe we will welcome you all back to our vineyard. Meanwhile we work towards a new year, harvest 2021 and so much more.”

Time to reflect

Pembrokeshire Sea Salt Co. launched in 2016 with Sherrill Evans and Josh Wright at the helm, dreaming of nature and travel. Think wild garlic, saffron, black truffle, chilli or Sichuan pepper and you start to get the idea. 2020 was always going to be a year of change for Pembrokeshire Sea Salt Co. They were to move into a new production unit and had ideas to grow. But things didn’t quite go to plan.

“This year has been one of challenges – but also opportunities,” said Sherrill Evans, Co-founder.

When Covid arrived in the UK, the year that had so much promise started to look considerably less hopeful.

“Nevertheless, it provided an opportunity to slow down, reflect and review what we were doing and why,” continued Evans.

They stepped back a little, made donations to those in need or those caring for others, and spent time communicating with their local and business communities. And they built up stock for when they customers could return, which they did. “Our communities have supported us, and many other small food businesses, with a desire to buy local, support artisan producers and to keep coming back for more. “

“We genuinely thank each and every customer (individual and business, existing and new) for keeping us going in what otherwise would have been a very difficult year. Diolch yn fawr i bawb!”

So, enjoy those takeaways, indulge in a treat, share a drink over video chat. Let’s support the Welsh food and Drink industry the way they have supported us during these tough times. Let’s get them through this – and look forward to a time when we can eat and drink together again.

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