An Interview with Rachel Rowlands

For over three decades Rachel’s Dairy and latterly, Rachel’s Organic, has been a source of great pride for the people of Dolybont, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion and Wales. We all love the yoghurt – but who is Rachel? We sent Huw to Brynllys Farm just outside Borth to find out.

So Rachel, thank you so much for speaking to us! To get the ball rolling, can you tell our readers a bit about yourself? I am 71 years old and except for 2 years (one year at school in Belfast and one year in Bracknell following my marriage to Gareth), I have lived all my life on the family organic farm, Brynllys. From a very early age I only ever wanted to be a farmer.

And is it possible to give us a snapshot of the history of Rachel’s, from the early days all the way to its re-branding as Rachel’s Organic? Rachels was born out of a snowstorm in 1982. No milk collected for over a week. An old separator was dug out of storage, the milk separated into cream and skim milk. With all water pipes frozen we fed the skim back to the cows and when the roads were open again I introduced the cream to local shops and hotels. The surplus I froze and later made into butter – a skill I learnt as a child watching my grandmother. The positive response to our Guernsey cream encouraged us to deliver on a regular basis. I later started to experiment in our kitchen to make yogurt and cottage cheese from the increasing amounts of skim generated. The brand name Rachel’s Dairy was founded in 1984. Our success through the 80’s was down to the whole family. Our children Mark, John and Shan contributed significantly to our ability to expand production on a Farm. In 1992 production moved to Glanyrafon, with continuing demand for organic produce growing significantly. Successful marketing strategies were key drivers to our success. The introduction of the black pot in 1998 created even more success and highlighted our organic integrity.

Now I saw that Prince Charles recently opened the new extension to the Aberystwyth factory. How did that come about? Prince Charles has always supported rural communities and businesses on his visits to Wales. Rachel’s invited HRH to open the latest expansion to the dairy, a significant investment, that secures jobs and the processing of Welsh milk in rural Ceredigion. He was delighted to return following his first visit back in 1998 when he also met my mother and they shared stories about the Strathmores, my grandmother’s family who were tenant farmers on the Glamis estate. She came to Wales in 1900 as the first Dairy instructress at the old University college.

Obviously it’s your name that is synonymous with the company but is it fair to say that you and Gareth have been a great team over the years? Absolutely! We are known as co-founders. We have always worked together and trusted each other’s individual strengths over the years.
And to what extent are you and Gareth still involved with the company today? We are still retained as Consultants to the owners, French company Lactalis.
Nowadays the clamour for organic produce is greater than ever so would you say that you guys were trailblazers in this field? I am very proud of and so grateful to my parents who embraced organic principals following a visit with Lady Eve Balfour, the founder of the Soil Association who came to Brynllys in the early 1950’s and to Gareth, who became a committed convert and supporter.

Now I know that in recent years you’ve been heavily involved with the British Heart Foundation. For those people who don’t know the story, how and why did you get involved with this particular charity? In 2009 the Welsh Assembly were supporting the BHF in a programme of gene testing for Familial Hypercholestraemia in Families. I was encouraged by our cardiologist, Dr. McKeogh, to get tested as I was concerned about health issues John was having in Australia given that my father had died of a heart attack aged 48. The test confirmed I had a defective gene and subsequent tests proved that I required open heart surgery and this information also confirmed John required emergency open heart surgery. I firmly believe the gene test helped to save us both from a fatal heart attack. Our story has been used by the BHF to highlight the importance of gene tests for families with a history of heart disease. I believe supporting the BHF research work is so important in benefiting the many and I am very proud to be one of their Ambassadors. I am also pleased to contribute to the Heart UK Product Approval Working Group.
And I understand that this is actually a very important period for the BHF? Yes, October was designated Cholesterol Awareness Month with patients of FH and supporters raising funds and encouraging their MPs to attend a Day of Action to support Heart UK the cholesterol charity. I look forward to meeting our new MP Ben Lake with information on this. I was very pleased to meet Mark Williams previously in parliament with information on this important campaign.

I know you and Gareth are still incredibly busy but what do you get up to in your spare time? Well Huw, at our age Gareth and I enjoy the privilege of retirement and choosing when and where we are busy. We enjoy relaxation and exercise in the warmth of Tenerife to keep us healthy. Cold winters are a challenge we prefer to avoid!
Finally, if you had your time again, is there anything you’d change? No Huw I would not change anything as I firmly believe you learn from your own life experiences and these enable you to make better decisions for the future and importantly share them with your family and the wider community.

Well thank you so much for this Rachel and I’m sure our readers will find your answers as fascinating as I have!