Food & Drink
Organic dairy co-operative Calon Wen has grown into a premium export brand — proving the value of a strong international presence, says globetrotting sales manager Stuart McNally.
Calon Wen is a co-operative of 21 farmers from across Wales, and an organic ethos is behind everything we do. We have an overall turnover of £9.5million, and we work hard to ensure a fair price for all our farmers. We produce around 20 million litres of milk per year, and the product range includes butter, cheese and frozen yoghurt.
All our production is outsourced, and we work with Welsh companies wherever possible. Plas Farm on Anglesey handles our frozen yoghurt, for example, while Gower View Foods at Cross Hands in Carmarthenshire produces all our butter. Keeping jobs in Wales is vital to us, and it supports our low-food-miles philosophy.
Recruitment isn’t a problem. We’re in the fortunate position that lots of people want to move back to West Wales. We get a good response to adverts for new positions and attract a high calibre of candidates. And we think it’s valuable to have Welsh-speakers on our staff. We attend around 20 events each year, including the Royal Welsh Show and music festivals.
Networks are important for everyone doing business in Wales. We’re members of the Fine Foods Wales Cluster – part of the Food and Drink Wales Cluster Network – which comes together to share good practice and invite along guest speakers. There’s also the Food and Drink Wales Export Club.
Export is a major focus for our business. Our five-year plan is that 30 per cent of our total revenue will come from overseas sales. I’ve been on several Welsh Government trade missions to the Middle East and have always brought new business back to Wales.
The Export Club offered help in setting up one-to-one meetings with local companies, and this has proved invaluable. Trying to set up trade links from a laptop doesn’t cut it; personal relationships matter overseas. By going out there and meeting people face to face, it shows we’re serious about growing our business.
We will be shipping our first produce to Qatar shortly with a range of cheese, butter and frozen yoghurt. Organic produce has a real kudos in the Middle East, and it attracts a premium price. In Qatar, I found the average food spend per person is equivalent to £118 per week, compared with just £43 in the UK.
Brand Wales is growing on the international stage, and there’s a real sense of momentum. Gareth Bale has made a difference, as has the start of Qatar Airways flights from Cardiff Airport – plus the exposure through our presence at headline events here in the UK. We are regulars at Taste Wales at the Celtic Manor Resort. These events are a great way for us to pick up new business.
We’re not neglecting the UK market. We’re currently involved in Project London with Total Food Marketing, which works with Welsh food and drink producers to provide expertise and business mentoring. We’ll be focusing on London over the next 12 months: it’s an important market, as 70 per cent of all organic sales are currently within the M25 area.
The support we get from the Welsh Government is unrivalled. It was a real eye-opener for me to find that you can always pick up the phone and ask for expert advice. Given the rural locations of many businesses in Wales, working together is essential.
And however wide we can cast our net, we’ll always be a Welsh company – it’s intrinsic to our success. With the support of Welsh Government, we believe we can increase our capacity and secure more jobs for the future.