Award-winning water and soft drinks manufacturer Radnor Hills has had a busy 12 months.
The company, which is based in the old county of Radnorshire in Mid Wales and celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, seized on the pandemic as a chance to innovate and launch over 40 new products.
It produced a record 350 million units of products, saw turnover grow by 30% and, during the peak of the pandemic, secured four new listings with national retailers.
Innovations during COVID-19 included launching a series of new products in various eco-friendly packaging options and creating the UK’s first vitamin D flavoured spring water in Tetra Pak®, to help increase daily intake of this vital vitamin, which it has been trialling with a Welsh care home.
The company, which creates spring and flavoured waters, functional and infused waters, school compliant drinks, premium sparkling pressés, fruit juices and own label brands, also pivoted and opened its first direct to consumer shop via Amazon and its own online shop so customers could carry on receiving their supply of soft drinks during lockdown.
Its new Radnor Infusions Lemon & Mint drink has recently received a highly commended award in this year’s The Grocer New Product Awards.
The company, which is already a ‘zero to landfill’ manufacturing site, is working on a new 10-year environmental strategy to build on the work which led to them being presented with the Made in Wales Awards ‘Sustainable and Ethical Manufacturer Award’ in 2019.
Last year, it made a large investment into their production line to double capacity and installed a new pasteurizer and cooling tower to reduce their water usage.
It installed new smart conveyors which save energy and a robot to help with palletisation. A new packing machine allows them to pack products in multiple formats for whatever their customers require.
In an industry first, it uses a 30% recycled plastic shrink wrap to protect their products.
Founder and Managing Director William Watkins, 55, a fifth-generation farmer who diversified and established Radnor Hills in 1991 with a £25,000 match-funded Welsh Government grant, says the company has always prided itself on taking every opportunity and developing it.
“COVID taught us that online retail is the future. It was quite a revelation how happy our customers are to buy their soft drinks online and direct from us rather than going to a supermarket. Our Tetra Pak sales rocketed during the pandemic,” he said.
“Innovation is at the heart of our business and we like to listen and respond to our customers. We know how important it is for our whole industry to offer sustainable packaging – we have to get this right – and we’re proud of the options we give to our consumers.
‘We’re the only production site in Wales to have the capability of bottling in glass, recycled plastic, aluminium can and Tetra Pak all on one site.
“It’s very unusual to have rural and high tech next to each other, but we have invested in cutting edge, fast and technical machinery and robotics that can produce 400 million products across our portfolio.
“It allows us to produce a whole range of great tasting Welsh spring water and soft drinks in all kinds of formats using the beautifully naturally filtered water that flows underneath us.
“We are passionate about our environmental responsibilities and careful to ensure that everything we extract is sustainable. This includes our commitment to ensure that we minimise our packaging requirements and work towards a system that recycles our bottles and packaging.
“We are working with all our stakeholders to create a cleaner, greener future. And we recycle everything, even ensuring our waste water is cleaned and in a pristine condition before we send it to the river.
“As a Welsh business we love to be associated with Wales and the stunning surroundings. I’m very proud to send our beautiful products made in the heart of Radnorshire out across the UK. I believe we have some of the best looking and best tasting products in their categories and they positively portray the area they have come from.
“Over the last thirty years, we have created a business that not only champions the beauty of our county, but which creates a career structure and a future for the people who work here. Our people, our community and our products will continue to be just as important to us over the next three decades.”
The Watkins family still farms the land around Heartsease Farm where the spring water is taken from and the company is headquartered.
Over 2,000 lambs were born on the farm this Spring and it recently re-introduced Welsh Black cows, a breed of cattle native to Wales and one of the oldest in Britain, going back to pre-Roman times, to the farm.