New social awareness paves surefire path to success
By Mike Lewis
“IT was never – and still isn’t – about money.”
Richard Jones, co-owner of an award-winning Carmarthenshire bee farm, is busy explaining the sustainability ethos behind a thriving rural business that produces five tonnes of raw Welsh carbon neutral honey per year from different parts of the country – all from a disused coal mine in Llangennech.
Having taken up beekeeping in 2004, Richard developed Fferm Cilgwenyn Bee Farm with fellow beekeeper Rhodri Owen driven by ‘a steadfast belief in helping the environment and providing the public with honest and unadulterated high-quality Welsh honey from beekeepers.’
Today they are among a growing number of Welsh producers reaping the rewards of embracing ethical and sustainability values to combat climate change and
ensure there are enough social and economic resources for everyone.
And never before has there been a greater incentive for food and drink retailers and manufacturers to demonstrate such an approach to the supply chain, while fears over climate change and global warning mean suppliers and consumers who adopt this new social awareness will be the ones most likely to profit in the long term.
Meeting the challenges of the Climate Emergency
Although dwarfed by foreign competitors, environmentally rich Wales, with its abundant rainfall, fertile farmland and long coastline, has been quick out of the blocks in the race to seize the zeitgeist. The Senedd, it must be remembered, was among the first world parliaments to declare a climate emergency and the subsequent Well-being of Future Generations Act (2015) served a significant notice of intent.
Despite a population of little more than three million, the Welsh food and drink industry packs a hefty punch, with businesses generating a turnover of £8.1bn within the Food Foundation Sector in 2022. In recent years the Welsh Government have forged close links with the industry and academia, with the main aim being to emphasise the message of local provenance and sustainability.
Their goal is ‘to build a strong and vibrant Welsh food and drink industry with sustainable supply chains that have a global reputation for excellence and having one of the most environmentally and socially responsible supply chains in the world’.
One of the ways the Welsh Government is supporting the industry is helping build a skilled workforce able to meet the challenges of the future.
The ‘Food and Drink Skills Wales’ programme helps Welsh food and drink companies access training and skills development for their staff, driving up productivity, improving bottom line financial return as well as promoting best practices.
The programme works closely with businesses of all sizes within Wales to identify skills shortages and opportunities to upskill their workforce. It will also prepare employees across Wales to adapt to changes and opportunities in food manufacturing including technical, business and environmental challenges. It will also contribute to the delivery of Net Zero targets through integrating sustainability information and knowledge.
Welsh food and drink companies can gain the knowledge and skills necessary to develop systems and actions that address environmental management, sustainability and social impact through Sustainability Training courses. The courses will be held in 2024: January 10, 17, 24, 31, and February 7.
Decarbonisation Workshops are also available. Delivered online and fully funded, the workshops provide food and drink manufacturing and processing businesses with the right skills to make decisions to move towards net zero for the sector.
AMRC Cymru, part of the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and the UK Government’s High Value Manufacturing Catapult, have a state-of-the-art site in Broughton, north Wales. Their purpose is to support businesses to improve their performance by transforming the products they sell, the way they make them, and the skills of their workforce.
The centre, funded with £20m from the Welsh Government and managed by the University of Sheffield, focuses on advanced manufacturing sectors including aerospace, automotive, nuclear and food in the key research areas of future propulsion, sustainability and digital manufacturing. It is predicted the new facility could increase GVA to the Welsh economy by as much as £4 billion over the next 20 years.
In addition Project HELIX delivers practical knowledge transfer activities, supporting Welsh food and drink companies to develop and reformulate innovative products from concept, design, development and manufacture, through to the consumer’s shopping basket.
Project HELIX is delivered by three food centres based across Wales, namely Food Technology Centre (north Wales), Food Centre Wales (mid and west Wales) and ZERO2FIVE (south Wales) and works closely with food and drink companies to help them grow, innovate, compete and reach new markets. As part of the centres’ services, they can help businesses to become more productive and sustainable by minimising their process waste.
When it comes to reducing food waste, FareShare Cymru was established in 2010 and began delivering food in July 2011. By using quality, in date surplus food which would otherwise have gone to waste, they help turn an environmental problem into a social solution.
They are part of a network of 25 similar centres located across the UK who are working to fight food waste and hunger. In Wales, around 400,000 tonnes of food is wasted each year. If only 1% of that is edible it is enough to contribute to over 9 million meals.
With their reach expanding further across Wales in recent years, the impact of their work is clear for all to see. In 2021 – 22 alone, FareShare Cymru redistributed just under 1,500 tonnes of food to over 200 Welsh charities and community groups. This provided 3.5 million healthy and balanced meals to vulnerable people and saved 2,650 tonnes of CO₂ from being emitted through waste.
High in the hills of mid-Wales the fifth generation of the Watkins family have been sharing their pure spring water with the rest of the world for the past three
The Radnor Hills company is a zero-to-landfill site having sent zero waste to landfill since 2018. They have invested in an entire recycling facility on-site to manage waste to ensure absolutely nothing goes to landfill. Operating as zero to landfill means they’re supporting a circular economy, sending any waste, including our plastic, back to the source to be reused
and recycled. Radnor Hills has also invested £1.8 million in solar panels to help power its operations.
The Welsh wine industry is following suit. Four vineyards - Ancre Hill Estates, Gwinllan Conwy
Vineyard, Gwinllan Hebron Vineyard and Sticle Vineyard - have recently joined in a collaborative project to look at ways of delivering innovative solutions to decarbonisation and improving efficiency through reducing the use of synthetic chemicals. Supported by the Welsh Government’s Decarbonisation and Covid Challenge Fund, the project’s objective is to increase knowledge and understanding of disease control and prevention methods in vineyards across Wales. Its outputs will help to reduce future use of, and reliance on, synthetic chemicals.
Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd Lesley Griffiths said: “It’s great to see producers and organisations coming together to find sustainable solutions to the challenges faced by the industry and wider society.
“From our food centres through to the volunteers working with organisations such as FareShare Cymru, there is such a lot of good work currently taking place.”
However, the industry cannot rest on its laurels. Looking ahead to the future the Minister added, “We know there is plenty of work that still needs to be done and the Welsh Government will remain steadfast in its commitment to support the Welsh food and drink
supply chain to become one of the most sustainable in the world.”
Working closely with the food and drink producers, Food and Drink Wales, part of Welsh Government, have established a number of Cluster Groups to maximise collaboration across the sector. The clusters bring together like-minded people, with the key objective of helping businesses achieve accelerated growth in sales, profit and employment.
One of these is the Sustainability Cluster, which supports and develops sustainable practices across Wales’ agri-food industry. Th is is delivered by utilising the successful triple helix approach with government, industry and academia working hand in hand to tackle common industry problems.
The cluster is the central hub, providing intelligence to businesses, becoming the eyes and ears of the industry, developing networks and industry expertise to help Wales become a world leader in sustainability.
Already boasting over a hundred members from across the industry, along with government bodies and 30 academic organisations, one of the ways it has been helping develop sustainable practices is supporting food and drink businesses achieve B Corp status.
B Corp Certification is a verified standard for purpose-driven, for-profit businesses to demonstrate their positive impacts on people and the planet. Drop Bear Beer Co became the first Welsh brewer to achieve this status. They followed this up by becoming the world’s
first certified carbon neutral alcohol-free brewer in 2022, bolstering the business’ commitment to combatting climate change.
Founded in 2019 by Joelle Drummond and Sarah McNena, Drop Bear Beer is traditionally brewed with only the highest quality ingredients.
Following their mantra of ‘Dropping the alcohol, perfecting the craft ’, the pair have swiftly established Drop Bear as a leading player in the industry, having won Great Taste Awards, the World Beer Awards and the European Beer Challenge, and made good use of the support offered by Food and Drink Wales’ Sustainability Cluster.
“Th e Cluster has been very useful,” says Joelle. “It has put us in touch with like-minded producers, and we have been able to access the wealth of expertise it contains. We are now confident that we can continue to grow our business in a way that focuses on sustainability.”
The ‘Welsh Way’ of farming
Although Wales’s highest value export categories are meat and meat products, we can do more to celebrate our meat, heritage and culture by purchasing quality produce from Welsh farms. Favourites such as lamb, beef, pork, chicken and game can also boost our nutrition whilst also supporting Welsh producers.
Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales have a vision to make sheep and cattle farming in Wales a global exemplar of how to produce quality food, sustainably and efficiently. They call this ‘Th e Welsh Way’. With Welsh farmland well suited for raising livestock, they hope to create an industry that produces high-quality protein on marginal land as sustainably as possible.
Pembrokeshire Lamb, a family-run business near Haverfordwest, are among those who believe in fostering traditional, sustainable values handed down through generations. “By growing our own crops as feed and using our natural resources we give our animals the essential nourishment needed to ensure our product is fresh and sustainably farmed with ethical practices in mind,” says co-owner Steve Lewis, who runs the business with wife Kara.
And Pembrokeshire Lamb are far from alone. Halen Môn have been awarded B Corp status after demonstrating the highest social and environmental standards. The certification means the north Wales business, who create a range of naturally filtered, award-winning sea salt related products, will join the growing ranks of companies in Wales already awarded the coveted accreditation.
Founded in 1997 by Alison and David Lea-Wilson, Halen Môn remain family-owned and have succeeded in developing and maintaining a sustainable, successful business which employs local people, underpinned with environmental and educational principles whilst also attracting tourists to a rural, coastal area of Wales.
Halen Môn are committed to driving the business forward towards a more sustainable future as they move closer to their objective of zero to landfill every year by applying the principles of ‘Reduce, Re-use and Recycle’ to all waste and co-products.
Purple Moose Brewery took part in the Welsh Government Sustainability and Decarbonisation workshops and feasibility study. Based in the harbour town of Porthmadog in north Wales, Purple Moose Brewery produce a whole range of different beers in cask and bottle and keg. They began their journey into sustainability and decarbonisation during the Covid pandemic when they had some time to take a step back and look at the bigger picture in order to view sustainability as one of the key elements where they wanted to take their business forward.
The Welsh Saucery are Pembrokeshire-based producers of sauces and spice mixes, all made using wholesome ingredients and natural preservatives. The company is owned by Steve and Kara Lewis who also run Pembrokeshire Lamb. Steve comments: “We are committed to sustainable ways of doing business which is why we are conscious to ensure everything we do is both environmentally and ethically correct.”
Two years ago, Pembrokeshire-based veg growers Puffin Produce claimed a UK first with the launch of carbon neutral potatoes.
The supplier, who owns the Blas Y Tir veg brand, now sell their Root Zero potatoes in hundreds of UK supermarkets.
The potatoes are grown in Pembrokeshire and certified carbon neutral through a combination of carbon offsetting and the use of ‘sustainable farming practices to remove carbon dioxide, create healthy soil and increase local biodiversity’.
The business has measured every contribution to the potatoes’ carbon footprint, from the power used on the farm to the transport used to take Root Zero potatoes to supermarkets, down to the energy used by customers to cook their potatoes at home.
“The food system contributes up to 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions,” said Puffin Produce CEO Huw Thomas. “We have to act now – so we’re on a mission to become carbon neutral and farm in a way that protects and regenerates our land, plants and wildlife.”
As far as buyers – retail and hospitality as well as distributors – are concerned, being sustainable not only reduces the impact on the environment, but also helps to improve customer experience, support the local economy, and stand out from competitors.
Sustainable food production uses processes and systems that are non-polluting, conserves nonrenewable energy and natural resources, are economically efficient, safe for workers, communities and consumers, and – perhaps most importantly – do not compromise the needs of future generations.
The international reputation of food and drink from Wales is certainly on the rise. Research – such as through the Value of Welshness report - has consistently shown that, for consumers, the word ‘Welsh’ denotes high standards of quality, ethics, and artisanship.
Recent figures show that the industry’s exports increased by £157m between 2021 and 2022 - a 24.5 per cent rise; significantly larger than UK exports as a whole, which grew by 21.6 per cent.
The growing international reputation of food and drink from Wales is something touched upon by producers. “Success at Rhug is down to the strength of the Wales brand, and I just hope that the quality of Welsh products will be nurtured and protected, because people buy quality.” That’s the view of Robert Wynn, Lord Newborough, who farms the 12,500-acre Rhug Estate in North Wales.
“From selling our produce in vans outside the front gate to developing our wholesale business through topend London restaurants, we have grown by not taking no for an answer,” says Lord Newborough. “Welsh Government support has helped with marketing
and proved an invaluable resource to date. The International Trade Development Programme enables us to reach out to customers at shows and trade events, and to explore new markets.”
And, finally, how can YOU, the consumer, help to save time, money and the planet? Firstly, eating sustainably is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce your carbon footprint. Buying local, seasonal produce will improve health, support the local community and possibly save money. Fine-tuning our diets by reducing food waste, buying more local, seasonal produce, eating whole grains and more fruit and vegetables, will have a considerable overall impact on the food system.
Try eating the whole vegetable, focus on seasonal, local produce, eat better quality meat as part of a balanced diet and produce no waste – in other words, learn to love your leftovers!
There are increasing signs that the message is getting across. A survey from Deloitte in the 12 months to March 2021, found that no fewer than 49 per cent of consumers have bought more seasonal produce, while 34 per cent have chosen brands that boast environmentally sustainable practices. Moreover, 28 per cent of consumers claim to have stopped purchasing certain brands or products because they had ethical or sustainability-related concerns about them.
Research commissioned by the Welsh Government over the summer has found that 19 per cent of the Welsh population would regard themselves as ‘ethical eaters’, which is slightly higher than the UK as a whole. Based on YouGov data, for ‘ethical eaters’, issues such as those around sustainability are very likely to influence their shopping habits, and they align themselves with companies that share their values.
No one can do everything to fight climate change, but everyone can do something.
See https://food-drink.wales/ for more information on how to make more sustainable food choices and also download a toolkit offering useful advice and recipes.