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From family farms to your plate – eight North Wales farmers are hoping to benefit from the growing ‘ready meals’ market thanks to saucy Welsh lamb meatballs

Exciting times lie ahead for eight North Wales sheep producers who are collaborating with multi-million pound food processing company, Roberts of Port Dinorwic, in a bid to take their top quality PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) Welsh lamb to the UK market place in a new range of ready meals. 

Ms Miriam Williams, Director of the Roberts company, which supplies food service companies, retail, pub, restaurant and leisure groups throughout the UK, advised the group that their top quality lamb could be the perfect core ingredient for the rapidly growing ‘ready’ meals market.

‘Ffermydd Teuluol - ‘Family Farms’, which is the brand name adopted by the group, first got together last year thanks to support from Farming Connect’s Agrisgôp programme, which supports farmers to take forward ideas to help them run sustainable, viable businesses.

Group leader Aaron Hughes set up the Agrisgôp group in response to industry concerns that UK consumption for lamb was reportedly dropping dramatically year on year and he knew a number of local farmers who were worried how that might impact on the future viability of their respective businesses.

“We were all producing high quality lamb, but in order to increase the volume of sales, we needed to consider how best to add value by investigating various processing options and market opportunities,” said group member Michael Jones who farms at Llandygai near Bangor.

“That initial support through Agrisgôp was pivotal to our progress.  Not only did we tap into other subsidised Farming Connect support services such as business and technical advice and nutrient management planning, but Aaron signposted us to other support organisations and business experts which then gave us the confidence and knowledge to produce our own business plan,” said  Mr. Jones.

The group, who recently featured as one of the success stories in television programmes about Wales post devolution, presented by broadcast journalist Huw Edwards, feel that the business support services for farmers and food producers in Wales, funded through the Welsh Government and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, are invaluable.

They received grant aid for pre-commercial market research by Conwy Cynhaliol, whose remit is to create a prosperous future for rural Conwy. The Food Technology Centre in Llangefni helped them narrow down a number of lamb-based products to the meatballs and burgers which made the final cut, and also gave them access to processing facilities. Support from Cywain, Wales’ key food marketing support agency, advised them on branding and packaging and helped them successfully test trade and launch their seasoned lamb meatballs and burgers at agricultural shows and food events this summer. The group’s products were also featured on the HCC stand the Royal Welsh show.

Mr. Jones and the other group members all agree that tapping into the expertise of a local processing firm has given the group a huge sense of optimism for the future.

“Thanks to working in partnership with this hugely successful local company, we are optimistic about the potential to expand out on lamb flocks, as well as providing new opportunities for other top quality PGI lamb producers throughout Wales,” Said Mr Jones.

“We’re excited to trial the range of pre-cooked ready meals, which will be served up with a range of flavoursome sauces including rosemary and red wine, Moroccan and curry flavour”

Ms Miriam Williams, speaking of Roberts of Port Dinorwic added,

“It’s still early days, but we are already having a hugely positive reaction to our trials of this new range of pre-cooked meals from a number of our top UK buyers.