Food & Drink
A family firm rooted in Caerphilly, Castle Dairies has been churning butter from rich Welsh cream for more than half a century. After major investment, it’s now looking to take its products to breakfast tables across the world.
Every pack of Welsh butter from Castle Dairies has a distinctive hallmark: a rampant dragon enclosed in a stylised outline of Caerphilly Castle. It’s a proud declaration of origin, both national and local, and one that’s more than justified. Since the company started trading 53 years ago, it has used Welsh ingredients to create its traditional Welsh dairy products.
Today, Castle Dairies is seeking to ride the wave of international demand for Welsh produce, and buying locally remains at the heart of its ethos. “We purchase our cream from supply dairies in Wales,” says managing director Nigel Lloyd, who took over from his father John in 2000. “It’s logistically important to be close to cream-producing centres – for transportation costs and also for our environmental footprint.”
Local expertise is as vital to the firm as local ingredients, and a partnership with Cardiff Metropolitan University helps to keep the necessary skills in Wales. He says: “We run knowledge transfer projects with the university to educate our staff in sensory analysis and develop new techniques in measuring quality. As for recruitment of higher-skilled staff – engineers, new-product development and technical staff – we’ve been able to find some very high-quality people. Wales has got a good skill set in that area.”
Demand for Castle’s Welsh butter is booming, and this has prompted the firm to invest around £1million in infrastructure and product development. “Over the past two years, there has been a tremendous investment in the company to set it up for future growth,” says Nigel. “We put in a very sophisticated cold-mix spreadable plant, one of only two or three in the UK, and created a new product development department.”
Financial support from the Welsh Government has helped the company realise its plans. “Over the years, the Welsh Assembly has been very supportive,” he says. “We’ve had grant aid to help us with capital expenditure. This has been critical in retaining and enhancing employment, and will probably play a role in future development.”
The Welsh Government is also supporting the company’s ambition to bring its products to kitchens and breakfast tables overseas. Nigel says: “In terms of exports, I think our Government have one of the best systems in the UK. They realised at an early stage that exports, especially in the food sector, are critical for Welsh businesses.
“They attend most of the large trade fairs, subsidising stands that companies can access. One of our export sales managers attended Gulfood 2019 in Dubai, and the Welsh Government helped with his travel arrangements.”
Castle Dairies has also taken part in a promising trade mission to New York, sounding out the US market. “We’re dipping our toe in the water because exporting does require a lot of homework. It’s not something that should be taken lightly, but we believe that the risks can be covered with the help of the Welsh Government.”
Carrying the brand across the Atlantic would have seemed like an impossible dream when John Lloyd started at Castle Dairies in 1968 as a delivery driver – or even when he took over the firm 18 years later in a management buyout. Despite passing control to Nigel at the start of the millennium, he continues as chairman; and he’s not alone in his long-term commitment to the company.
“We’ve got a lot of staff here who have been with us for more than 30 years, or even 40 years,” says Nigel. “I think that bedrock in the community is very important. It sets the culture, the way that we treat people. I’d like to think we offer a lot of flexibility as an employer, and people know who the owners are. They know we’re committed to the area.”
So in due course, will the company see a third generation of the family taking the helm? He admits it’s too early to commit his 14-year-old son to the business. But he’s confident that Caerphilly Castle and its dragon will be appearing on butter packs, in Wales and further afield, for many years to come.