Its greatest asset and ingredient, mineral rich spring water sourced on site, was the reason why the fifth generation family farm in Powys, mid-Wales could diversify in 1990 and take advantage of the match-funded government grants on offer to develop a separate manufacturing business. From those roots, 170 vital rural jobs have been created while the farm still keeps sheep and grows crops. It’s all turned into the perfect playlist for a company courting customers more concerned than ever before about provenance and authenticity.
Owner and chief executive William Watkins oversees production of million bottles and cartons a day including premium, top tasting presses named after the family’s splendidly-titled Heartsease Farm, along with fruit juices and spring and flavoured waters.
The company supplies the UK’s retail and food service sectors and through a 200-strong wholesale network. Schools are big fans of the low calorie, natural ingredient formulations, 60 per cent of output is own label, the remainder for clients’ own brands with a growing proportion for export.
Investing in automation and being able to adapt when adversity strikes have been defining factors in the business’s success, says Watkins, who now runs a 24/7 operation and has installed eight lines filling plastic bottles. The most recent £6 million machine, capable of filling 33,000 bottles an hour, reduces the amount of plastic packaging used.
Investing from proceeds and careful to keep growth within 10 per cent he explains: “Automation increases efficiency and innovation. Our juices do not have preservatives because of our hot filling technology and we blow up our plastic bottles here on site saving on transportation and weight costs. Automation has never meant loss of jobs for us, only growth and more staff.
“The 2008 economic crash was a setback when customers switched to buying shops’ own label products, but since then food and drink quality has come to the fore.
“The improvement in school catering standards led by Jamie Oliver has helped us, so too the sugar tax, it spurs new product development. Some of our first customers were airlines, we made the foil-sealed cuplets of water they served. Then we moved away supplying other sectors. But since installing new machines we are now back as a supplier to major airlines.”
Radnor Hills has cut its packaging by 50 per cent compared to a decade ago and become a recycling champion as the campaign against single use plastic grows. Fifty one per cent of the plastic bottle material it uses is recycled and 30 per cent of its plastic shrink wrap. All its glass and plastic bottles are recyclable and no waste goes to landfill.
The latest range Radnor + Energy makes its entry into the ‘near water’ market this month with low calorie sparkling drinks infused with natural caffeine.
New plant will enable canned drinks, which because of their higher value induce more incentive to recycle, to be part of the offering from this autumn.
“You can’t stop change,” says Watkins. “The answer is how you gain from it.”
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