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How to develop an artisanal food business

If you want to start up your own food brand, then master cheesemaker Susan Fiander-Woodhouse of Blaenafon Cheddar Company has some brilliant insights to share. We spoke to her about how the family business started, why being in Wales makes a difference, and how iwoca has helped the company develop.

Starting an artisan food business takes an appetite for hard work—and occasionally clever financing. We caught up with Susan Fiander-Woodhouse of award-winning Blaenafon Cheddar Company to find out how iwoca helped them hit the ground running.

Hi Susan. Can you start off by telling us all about your business?

We're a family-run artisan cheese maker, and have been running for 12 years. We make some of Wales's most-awarded handmade Cheddar cheese products. There are just three of us in the business, and we do it all in-house. What makes us special is that we also work for tourism, too; people can come and see us making cheese, do private tastings and even personalised tours. We’re visited by coach parties from the UK and around the globe, and we do a lot of TV and media work as well. We’re a dynamic young family, and we all enjoy what we’re doing.

How did you start up?

Well, I told my director to stuff the job! I was a development chef for a big cheese company. I loved my role, working with all of Britain's major supermarkets and some of America’s. But my boss was a nightmare, and enough was enough. Like any good chef, we set up our own family business.

What do you think is special about running a business in Wales?

We've got very good infrastructure, like the roads, to get deliveries out and bring products into Wales. It's easily accessible. The tolls for the Severn Bridge are going soon, which is going to make trade even easier between us and England. It's a great place to live and work.

Blaenafon is deep in the beautiful Welsh countryside. Does that bring any special challenges?

Sometimes the weather can be a hindrance, like deep snow. Last year we had six weeks of snow, which was a nightmare. We're 1,200 ft up, so we need to get down and out and we couldn't. That can become a bit of a challenge when you've got deliveries and orders to get out.

How does running a food brand in Wales compare with operating in England?

I think we've got a greater passion for local handmade produce in Wales. We're prouder of the Welsh brand, which England doesn't have. England is a big, generic area, but in Wales, our identity means passion and ‘hwyl’ (Welsh word meaning ‘a stirring feeling of emotional motivation and energy’ - Ed). We tell a story.

I think it's unique for a business to be able to stand the test in Wales and also grow a database of customers outside the country like we have. We have got a huge following outside of Wales and we're very proud that we trade with the whole of the world privately as well. We haven't got a lot of the big commodities that are available in England, but we get the work done just the same.

Finally, how have you used iwoca to grow the business?

It's important there are facilities like yours out there for small businesses like ours, so that we can reach out when we need help with the cash flow situation. That's predominantly what we use iwoca for: it gives us quick access to funds when we have new products, when we need to invest in new marketing, labels, things like that. We can call on you while we're waiting for the cash flow to come in from the product launch, so it really helps.

That’s great to know, Susan. Thanks for sharing with us