Wales’s fabulous food and drink start-ups are thriving with support from Cywain. Sally Hales finds out how.
We have long been told to buy local but this year of uncertainty has rammed the message home - we should support our local producers. Wales has more than 500 artisan food and drink producers making everything from non-alcoholic beer to pepper. And, despite unprecedented challenges, these businesses - many of them start-ups - have thrived.
Small producers are the lifeblood of Wales’ food and drink community. Destined to become the major producers of the future as drivers of this major industry, they deliver employment and prosperity alongside their delicious goods. And they do more than ensure our food needs are met at a time - post-Brexit and post-pandemic - when it is increasingly important to have reliable local supplies: their award-winning products also shine a spotlight on our heritage and are a testament to our bright future.
Making high-quality produce takes passion for - and expertise in - making the product. But bringing products to market requires business skills. The former comes with years of experience, but the latter can be quickly acquired with help from Cywain, a government-funded project that helps businesses grow with practical, tailored support and collaborate with ventures such as box projects to deliver goods directly to the consumer.
Wye Valley Producers is one enterprise finding opportunity in a crisis. Award-winning food and drink producers in the Wye Valley had been talking about working together when Covid-19 spurred them into action. “We knew that by working and selling together we could create a new and unique shopping opportunity,” says Ben Ford, of Wye Valley Producers. “And so, our click and collect was born, delicious food and drink available in a safe and convenient way.”
Online orders for everything from eggs and ciders to marshmallows and chilli plants are available to buy online for drive-thru collection in Chepstow. Pre-selected boxes are also available for delivery. “As producers, provenance is important as we know it’s something our customers really value,” he adds.
Cywain was involved from the start. It allocated the enterprise as a fine food cluster. Clusters are an initiative that fosters connections between businesses, such as the drinks, seafood, dairy and honey industries. “The support we have received has been amazing,” Ben says. “Cywain has not only signposted great learning opportunities for us on marketing and social media but also in how to structure ourselves and provided mentoring to help us make some of those trickier decisions.”
"Even in the current climate, we're struggling to keep up with demand"
Raise a glass
Holyhead’s Bragdy Cybi was born when its now brewer, Daniel Jones, was made redundant from his engineering job in December 2019 and decided it was time for something completely different - creating craft beer in seasonal batches inspired by life on Holy Island, the people, the culture and the language. And it is a move that has paid off.
“We opened our brewery shop in May, during the pandemic. We have a shop and nano-brewery just off the high street in Holyhead and, even in the current climate, we're struggling to keep up with demand,” says Bragdy Cybi’s Bethan Jones, who describes Cywain’s support as “absolutely priceless”.
With its Belgian blonde ale, Cwrw'r Bae, grabbing two stars in the Great Taste Awards, the brand looks unstoppable. “Our plan for 2021 is to move production into other premises with a bigger kit and extending our shop on the high street and opening a small taproom and tasting room,” says Bethan. “Cywain has been there every step of the way offering support and advice on all aspects of running a drinks business,” she adds. “Our branding was part-funded by a grant from Cywain. We have taken part in as many free relevant courses as we could.”
Wales in a cup
Wales is not the first place you think for tea-growing but that has not stopped Peterston Tea in the Vale of Glamorgan. Indeed, it is the first tea farm in Wales, and one of the first commercial tea farms in the UK. “We started growing tea to add diversification to our fruit farm and, six years later, we now have over two acres of tea plants,” says Lucy George, of Peterston Tea.
“The weather in Wales is quite challenging for tea plants but this actually works in our favour, stressed plants result in beautifully flavoured complex teas,” she adds. “The fertile valley soils, wind, rain, sun and our proximity to the sea makes for totally unique tea. It really is Wales in a cup.”
Cywain has been on hand throughout with support for digital marketing, social media opportunities and creating a selling strategy. “We are very grateful for the support we have received from Cywain over the last few years,” says Lucy. “A wide range of workshops and mentoring has helped us put a solid foundation of planning and marketing in place.”
“We knew that by working together and selling together we could create a new and unique shopping opportunity”
Swansea’s Drop Bear Beer burst onto the drinks scene in 2019 with its quality low- and alcohol-free craft beers, and no pandemic is going to hold it back. Its beers are already available in France, Germany and Canada among others, and the Tropical IPA won a one-star Great Taste Award. “We're the first of our kind in Wales and the support from Cywain and Welsh consumers has been fantastic,” said Joelle Drummond, a founding director. “Cywain has helped establish connections with industry professionals and has provided us with opportunities to directly engage and interact with Welsh consumers, something that's particularly important for a new market."
“The fertile valley soils, wind, rain, sun and our proximity to the sea makes for totally unique tea. It really is Wales in a cup”
When Tim and Dot Tyne wanted to diversify their agricultural enterprise in Gwynedd into livestock they decided on deer, and Cig Carw Llŷn was born. There are no other venison producers in the Pen Llŷn area - and relatively few throughout Wales - but that does not mean there is no precedent. Archaeologists digging at a derelict manor house near Garndolbenmaen discovered it overlaid another earlier site – a medieval deer park. This royal deer park of the Welsh princes was dated to pre-1230, the period during which Llewelyn Fawr’s court was at nearby Criccieth. “So, by establishing a new park herd of fallow deer in north-west Wales we’re perhaps recreating a little bit of local history,” says Dot.
Cywain helped to realise their dream. “As the idea has taken shape, we have worked closely with Cywain who have given great support throughout, from facilitating grant applications to organising online seminars and one-to-one sessions with advisers, and providing funding for the design of packaging, branding and labelling,” she adds.
If you have passion for produce and dream of sharing it with Wales and the world, Cywain could help you make the leap into business and support you to fulfil your ambitions. And we can all help the country’s many passionate producers deliver a delicious bite of Wales’ bright future by enjoying their delightful offerings.
Where and how to buy
Cywain producers’ map
Find out where you can get fantastic food and drink from the more than 250 businesses supported by Cywain with its online searchable map. This festive season, Cywain is encouraging people to “Keep it local, keep it Welsh”. So, whether it is Christmas treats and trimmings, a seasonal tipple or a tasty gift, the map can help you finding local producer easily.
Wye Valley Producers
Order online for delivery to your home or for collection near the Drill Hall, Lower Church St, Chepstow NP16 5HJ, on Fridays between 5pm and 7pm. Several pre-selected boxes are available for home delivery.
Click and collect is available from the brewery and bottle shop at 4 Bryn Annex, Williams Street, Holyhead LL65 1RN. Local deliveries are also available on Anglesey. A UK-wide online shop will be available soon.
Peterston Tea is available from its online shop.
Drop Bear Beer
Drop Bear Beers are available from its online shop with free delivery. A map on the website also shows shops, pubs and bars stocking the beers.
Cig Carw Llŷn Venison
Cig Carw Llŷn Venison is aiming to supply to business and direct to customers. Contact them via Facebook here or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.