A decades-old Welsh family bakery, whose free-from products have transformed it into a multi-million pound global business, has been named ‘Winner of Winners’ at this year’s South and Mid Wales Chambers Welsh Business Awards.
Hirwaun-based Welsh Hills Bakery – which supplies gluten-, dairy- and wheat-free products to an ever-increasing range of countries worldwide – triumphed in the Success through Overseas Trade category for the second year running, before being named overall winner at last night’s [23 February] ceremony.
The 60-year-old bakery, started in 1956 by Aberdare baker Ernest Rule and his wife Ruby, is now run by the third generation of the same family and employs 82 staff, producing more than 80 product lines. Last year, the business sold around £5 million worth of products in total, of which 20 per cent were exports.
Its ranges of cakes and biscuits can be found everywhere from the United States and Australia, through to Hungary and the Middle East. The first company to supply two major UK supermarket chains with their own brand of gluten-free products – Sainsbury’s and Tesco, today it has added several others to the portfolio, including Asda, Waitrose, Morrisons and Holland & Barrett.
Judges at the Welsh Business Awards, which took place at the National Museum of Wales, were impressed by the company’s phenomenal overseas growth – the bakery is now in talks with China, Japan and South America – as well as its continued commitment to the local community.
“Last year, at these awards, we were privileged to win the Success through Overseas Trade Welsh Business Award,” said Julian Cruttenden at Welsh Hills Bakery. “To win it twice is overwhelming. The acknowledgement that we were doing a great job encouraged us to focus our efforts even more on the export sector. In 2016, 20 per cent of our sales were in exports. We are currently in talks with Japan and Dubai and planning to increase that figure by a further 50 percent in the next 12 months. All this and we are about to appear in a Morrison's advert.
“We are incredibly humbled to come away with two trophies this year. I have no doubt the wins will spur us on to even bigger and better things. We are continually inspired by the fantastic business community in Wales, as well as by the wonderful Aberdare community that has supported our growth. This support and validation means the world to us.”
Another big winner at the awards was the CEO of Torfaen Leisure Trust Ltd, Sally Church, who won the President’s Award, which recognises the outstanding achievement of a member of the Welsh business community.
Ms Church received the award in appreciation of her contribution to the health and well-being of the Torfaen community. The Trust manages five leisure and fitness facilities across Torfaen – vital services in a county where 60 per cent of the population are overweight or obese, compared to 55 per cent across Wales. In the past year, under Ms Church’s supervision, there have been more than a million visits to their fitness facilities – a 27 per cent increase on 2015.
“For as long as I can remember I’ve been a sports enthusiast,” said Ms Church. “I believe strongly in the power of sports and fitness to enhance your mental as well as physical wellbeing, and I have witnessed the difference it can make to people’s lives.
“Everything achieved at Torfaen Leisure Trust has been the result of team work, so I am proud to accept this award on behalf of the team. It is a reflection of what can be achieved when a group of passionate and community-minded people unite for the good of their local area.
“Torfaen Trust has become a beacon for the sector. A healthier, more active community has a positive impact on business culture and the local economy: whether lowering costs on health and social care budgets, reducing absences from employment on health issues, or creating opportunities for people to engage in successful sporting careers, which in turn challenge and inspire.”
The 2016 awards, celebrating its 15th anniversary this year and sponsored by the University of South Wales, saw 35 businesses nominated for awards across a variety of sectors. A record 12 were based in Cardiff. The event was hosted by TV presenter, Gethin Jones, for the second time.
“Given how challenging 2016 has been for many of our businesses, with continued uncertainty surrounding the impact of Brexit, it was inspiring to celebrate so much success tonight,” said Heather Myers, director of the South and Mid Wales Chambers of Commerce.
“All 35 shortlisted businesses should be immensely proud of what they achieved in 2016, whether they left with a trophy or not. Their entrepreneurial spirit and never-say-die attitude have contributed to a more prosperous Wales and one that remains a firm contender in the global market.
“I’d like to thank the University of South Wales for sponsoring the event for another year, all of the category sponsors for their unyielding support, and everyone who worked so hard to ensure the evening was a triumph.”
Siwan Rees, director of USW Exchange at the University of South Wales, which sponsors the event, said:
“We’re delighted to again support the awards, and congratulate all of those who have either been shortlisted or go on to become winners.
“By focusing on increasing the SME contribution to the economy, developing students with relevant skills, and enhancing the status of the university as an institution for business, USW is a centre for collaboration and interaction, which builds links between industry and graduate talent.”
Secretary of State for Wales, Alun Cairns was a spokesperson at the awards. He said:
“It's because of the hard work and dedication of dynamic Welsh businesses, like those celebrated at the awards, that Wales has seen the fastest growth outside London since 2010.
“As a Government, we're proud of supporting our job market. I'm delighted to say that there are 117,000 more private sector jobs in Wales than there were in 2010. These jobs have been created by the private sector, by entrepreneurs who take risks and have the drive to build businesses.
“I hope the Welsh business community continue to work together to ensure Wales remains a thriving location to do business.”
The winners of each category have the opportunity to progress to the British Chamber Awards when entries open in the Spring. Welsh businesses have traditionally performed well against UK-wide competition and a number have successfully secured a share of the prize money, which was £10,000 last year.