26 February 2021, 08:53 AM
  • Speciality Food discovers the secrets behind the success of organic farming pioneer Rhug Estate
Talking Shop: Behind the scenes at Rhug Estate

Lord Newborough, the owner of local food champion and farm-to-fork expert Rhug Estate, has spent more than two decades shaping his business into a heavyweight of the fine food sector.

From an early age, farming was Lord Newborough’s way of life. He took over running the Rhug Estate farm in 1998 after the death of his father, and that same year, he began converting the conventional 2,500-acre farm into what has become the most successful organic farming business in Wales, and now sits at nearly 8,000 acres.

Over the years since, Lord Newborough has grown the business from just nine employees to more than 120 – the vast majority of whom live within 10 miles of the estate – and diversified into exports, wholesale, energy, skincare and direct-to-consumer sales. But at the heart of everything he does is Lord Newborough’s passion for organic, field-to-plate farming and championing fantastic Welsh produce

The business, now a trailblazer not only in organic farming, but also in sustainable energy, animal welfare and speciality food retailing, has proven its penchant for innovation. We spoke to Rhug Estate’s Sarah Jones to find out more about the estate’s day-to-day triumphs and challenges and discover its plans for the future.

Can you tell us about Rhug Estate’s farm shop team?

Amy Coleman manages the farm shop, café, takeaway and drive thru, as well as our new business, Rhug Wild Beauty skincare collection. Emily Davies is our operations manager and manages the day-to-day running of the farm shop. We also have the butchers counter and the deli counter in the farm shop. The butchers counter is managed by our production manager, Gary Jones, who supplies meat from the cutting plant, which is on-site. He liaises with the farm manager to order beef, chicken, bison, lamb direct from the farm.

What sets Rhug apart from other independent retailers?

We offer a true organic, ‘farm-to-fork’ experience. We also received a Royal Warrant in 2018, our brand is recognised abroad and we are one of the biggest local employers.

What challenges has Rhug Estate experienced recently, and how have you overcome them?

Covid has been one of the biggest challenges the business has had to face on so many levels. The sad reality that we have had to let staff go; the closure, ongoing, of our café; the lack of tourists travelling past, which we rely heavily on. We’ve adapted our online presence to enable our customers to continue to enjoy their Rhug favourites, but we miss seeing our customers. And of course we are only starting down the road of what effect Brexit will have on our overseas exports.

What’s next for Rhug Estate and the farm shop?

Lord Newborough is always thinking of what is next. He never lets the grass grow under his feet for too long. Rhug Wild Beauty skincare collection is looking to widen the range of products available. The Estate team is always looking at the latest innovations in renewable energy to see if they suit the estate. The farm shop team is always looking for new products that Rhug customers would enjoy. Most recently, they have started working with a clothing company to introduce more clothes into the shop.

We are constantly striving to be more sustainable in our packaging and the way we run the business. The production team is always striving to improve the packaging on the meat so it is friendlier for the environment whilst providing the longest shelf life possible. We have recruited a new member of staff to fill the new role of low carbon project manager. The purpose of this position is to enable us to measure our carbon credentials and, ultimately, trade our carbon values.

Which of Rhug’s recent achievements are you most proud of?

There are so many things to be proud of: The amazing team of staff in all areas of the business. The accolades and awards we have won over the years. We were the first farm in the UK to open a drive thru for our customers. We were awarded the Royal Warrant by appointment to HRH the Prince of Wales in 2018. The diversity of our business, which now includes the organic skincare collection: Rhug Wild Beauty. We use ingredients off the farm and use our sheep’s wool for packaging.

Rhug Estate through the years

2000 - The farm was certified organic by the Soil Association.
2002 - Lord Newborough began his retail business, selling burgers and fresh meat via two vans near the farm gate.
2004 - The ‘Rhug Organic’ brand was created, and Lord Newborough began supplying top restaurants, hotels and independent delis.
2006 - Rhug Estate took its first steps into foreign markets, beginning with exports to Singapore.
2011 - Lord Newborough invested in a new farm shop, stocking nearly 3,000 products from local suppliers and small businesses. A bistro and take away were also developed.
2014 - The estate began diversifying into the production of green energy, creating Rhug Energy Ltd.
2018 - The estate was granted a Royal Warrant of Appointment to HRH The Prince of Wales for Rhug Organic Farm, which Lord Newborough called “a dream come true”.
2020 - Rhug Estate launched its new skin and bodycare business, Rhug Wild Beauty, using natural and foraged ingredients from the estate.

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