How Welsh mineral water company has become one of the UK's best-known brands

From humble beginnings on a family farm to one of the UK's best-known mineral water brands – the journey of Radnor Hills is fascinating, and a Welsh success story to celebrate.

The business has positioned itself to take advantage of the growth in the soft drinks sector and has won many prestigious contracts along the way.

Here Radnor Hills' Penny Butler tells us how it all started, the pitfalls they have encountered along the way and offers advice for other entrepreneurs.

 

Tell us about Radnor Hills.
We could begin more than 100 years ago when founder William Watkins' ancestors started farming the land where he would later start the Radnor Hills business. 

It is a business very much rooted in both family and place. Our brand is all about the purity and quality of the Welsh water we source.

William founded Radnor Hills Mineral Water Company as a diversification from his family farming business. The company now employs 180 people and has nine production lines bottling a vast range of soft drinks into glass and plastic bottles, tetra cartons and cans.

It was a modest start – just one small cupping line, adapted from a yoghurt-filling production line. But with some help from Welsh Government funding, it's been built into the company it is today, with profit reinvested into capital improvements and technology.

We had a massive boost early on in the history of the company when McDonald's UK became one of our first customers. It was a partnership which lasted for more than ten years and brought with it security and the confidence to expand. Then came new opportunities. We were able to spot opportunities in the market and added to our stable of products with soft drinks.

We now export to overseas markets too and have plans to grow that part of the business. And we have supply contracts with big-name supermarkets, including Morrisons, Co-op, Sainsbury's and Aldi, producing own-label soft drinks. These drinks now account for 50% of the company's turnover.

We've just added Tetra packaging and canning, and have secured a second site at Presteigne, near our headquarters, which we want to develop into another production area.

It's incredible to think all this started on a family farm.

 

 

What are your proudest moments in business so far?
We've won plenty of awards for our service, for the quality of our products, training and apprenticeship programmes and innovation – to name but a few. But the most exciting of all was the Queen's Award for Enterprise for export sales.

 

It's not just winning awards that make us proud. The workforce shares a sense of pride and excitement every time we open a new production line.

 

If you were starting again, what would you do differently?
There have been lots of setbacks, like any company as it develops! There was the energy drink, Red Dragon, which went a brownish colour after a few months of first development and wasn't quite so appealing. And then the rhubarb and custard flavour and blue bubblegum flavour kids' drinks, which weren't big hits – especially with complaints that the blue bubblegum flavour tended to stain carpets!

 

But there have been few regrets along the way. Many of our challenges have come from elements beyond our control, such as exchange rate movements and changes in legislation, which have affected competitors as well.

 

 

How has support from Business Wales AGP helped your business?
We have had plenty of help from the Welsh Government over the years, with funding for capital investment, innovation and technical processes, overseas business trips, trade missions, tradeshows and export trade shows. Through Business Wales AGP, we have benefited from management coaching, workshops, marketing training and assistance as well as business mentoring.

This help has been an essential factor in our growth from a business start-up, as we have grown from three staff to 180. This support has resulted in a varied and diverse range of soft drinks suiting every sector of the soft drinks market all using one key ingredient - pure Welsh spring water.

 

What advice and guidance would you give other businesses starting out?

● Never stand still.

● Never stop innovating.

● Take progress one step at a time, never run before you can walk.

● Seek and follow advice from professionals who know what they are doing. Join an industry cluster and listen to what others in your industry have to say, they have a wealth of knowledge to share.

● Take advantage of the varied help which is available to you from the Welsh Government.

 

For more information on Radnor Hills, visit here.


Further information on the Business Wales Accelerated Growth Programme​

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