Wales has a wealth of excellent farm produce, famed around the world for its quality.
Dairy is a critical component of the nation's agricultural landscape. One brand well-positioned to take advantage of that, offering dairy products to a range of customers, is Totally Welsh. The brainchild of Mark Hunter, who founded his business in 1990, the brand has been built on the standard of its products and excellence of its service.
Here, John Horsman, of Totally Welsh, tells us all about the business and offers some tips to other business leaders wanting to pursue ambitious growth.
Tell us about Totally Welsh.
I think the best place to start is with our product because fundamentally that's what we're all about. Our dairy is sourced directly from the farm. It's Welsh milk from Welsh cows, and it's bottled here in Wales too. We're proud of that, and it's a key selling point for us.
As much as possible we use farms within a 40-mile radius of our bottling plant in Haverfordwest, using farmers in Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and Carmarthen. These lush pastures provide a high-quality product and we are well placed in West Wales to capitalise on this with our bottling facilities and recognised brand name.
By keeping things local and reducing food miles, we offer milk that is fresher for our consumers and better for the environment too. We supply public sector clients like hospitals and schools, as well as independent retailers.
About 18 months ago we acquired the Welsh doorstep delivery arm of global brand Milk and More (Muller) – which is now known as Totally Welsh Direct and sells a range of other products. We're keen for as many of those products as possible to be Welsh. In these difficult and uncertain times, this service has been a lifeline to many – especially those who haven't been able to get out of their homes very much.
The success we've had means we've expanded production. For example, we have just installed a state-of-the-art bottling line which has increased our capacity to produce hundreds of thousands of extra litres of milk every week. It's all geared us up for growth, and we've won some big supply contracts under the Totally Welsh brand.
But our growth hasn't been all about headline-grabbing contracts, as we've made a massive success of our doorstep deliveries service at the same time. We're keen to ensure that our environmental footprint shrinks, so we use glass bottles in our home deliveries. Recycling and reusing is an ethos which is now at the centre of our operation.
What are your proudest moments in business so far?
That's difficult for a business like ours, with so much in our history to celebrate. But in recent years, keeping production going during the installation of our automation system was a massive success and a tribute to the work of our team here.
When we acquired what is now Totally Welsh Direct, we knew it wasn't the brand that it could be. It's benefited from our knowledge of Wales and the customers we serve, and I think it's grown (and keeps growing!) into the business we always knew it could be.
We had to pivot our business quickly when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and we've benefited from being agile and dynamic and have managed to see growth during a time when not all companies can say that.
If you were starting again, what would you do differently?
Another difficult one! I think we've made decisions which have been challenging but which have ultimately been beneficial to the business.
Taking on a new business in Totally Welsh Direct has been an enormous undertaking but one of which we're rightly proud, and which we know will benefit the company as we move forward.
How has support from Business Wales AGP helped your business?
We've had massive support from Business Wales’ Accelerated Growth Programme (AGP) since we joined the programme. We've received support in a range of areas, like branding, marketing and publicity through our new newsletter. That was especially beneficial when we launched Totally Welsh Direct.
We also accessed the expertise at Business Wales AGP to help us in the design and layout of our cold store, which has improved efficiency here.
We have also been supported with our recruitment strategy and succession planning for senior staff.
It's been an invaluable resource and proves that all businesses – big, small, new or well-established – can really benefit from expertise brought in from the outside.
What advice and guidance would you give other businesses starting out?
● Recruit well and ensure your staff are kept enthused and a part of your project through continuous assessment and appraising.
● Totally Welsh has become a trusted brand, don't underestimate how powerful your brand can be if you build it well.
● Whatever you do, whether it's in a more traditional sector like ours or a newer one, try to build flexibility and dynamism into the DNA of your company because you never know when you might need that ability to change or move in a different direction.
For more information on Totally Welsh visit here.
Further information on the Business Wales Accelerated Growth Programme.