Welsh food producers are innovating to pull through the Covid-19 crisis and local initiatives such as Cadwyn Ogwen in the shadow of Snowdon have been welcomed by Plaid Cymru.

The party's shadow rural affairs minister Llyr Gruffydd MS, together with Plaid's Westminster spokesperson on rural affairs Ben Lake, has this week launched a major new campaign to help boost the Welsh food and drink industry.

The 'I'm buying local' campaign encourages party members and supporters to buy more locally produced food and drink with the aim of helping those businesses cope with the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic as well as building resilience for the future.

Plaid Cymru Shadow Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Llyr Gruffydd MS said:

 “The Welsh food and drink industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. The sudden closure of restaurants and coffee shops and the loss of export markets saw many Welsh farmers lose their markets overnight. So it's really inspiring to see people turn to local suppliers and producers as the food chain has struggled to cope. 

"Wales has a good story to tell in terms of its food quality and perhaps this crisis is the opportunity to make sure more people know about it.

"One great example of how a local distribution network has been developed is in the Ogwen Valley based on Bethesda. Cadwyn Ogwen has been set up by local social enterprise Partneriaeth Ogwen and helps 10 food producers in the valley distribute their produce."

Menai Seafood Company is one of the businesses that's part of the scheme.

The Menai Seafood Company started back in 2015 and employs four people. They started processing mussels in Llanfaethlu before expanding and diversifying into other shellfish and eventually fish. They're supplied by fishermen in Gwynedd and Môn. 

Mark Gray, one of its directors, wanted to improve the local food economy and teaming up with other food producers under the umbrella of Cadwyn Ogwen “made a lot of sense”.

Mark Gray said,

“The pandemic and subsequent lockdown has exposed the fragility of the food supply chain but also that a foundational economy needs resilience and to be rooted in the community.

“The lockdown has wiped out many of the traditional export markets for local fishermen - for example 100% of Welsh whelks used to be exported to South Korea. So having a local food processor able to distribute produce in the community has been a much-appreciated bonus for the fishing community.

“Our company has also increased its use of locally caught white fish such as pollock and coley, having previously relied on the now closed market in Whitby for much of its cod and haddock. 

“Business has doubled since the lockdown because people want to support the local economy and local producers but supermarkets closing their fish counters has helped. 

“I hope that the change in shopping habits due to the pandemic may also mean a change in the way we look on our local foods. We’re currently working with Patneriaeth Ogwen to produce videos that will inform people about how to prepare and cook local shellfish, such as crabs and lobsters - adding that people are having to regain cooking skills.

“The business currently supplies and processes a range of local seafood from a commercial kitchen in Bethesda and operates a drop-off system in various parts of Gwynedd and Môn but we are also aiming to open a retail unit at Porth Penrhyn that will greatly increase storage, flexibility and capacity later in the year. 

Meleri Davies, of Partneriaeth Ogwen, said Cadwyn Ogwen was set up as a direct response to the pandemic and to help local food producers:

"We're currently delivering about £1,000 of products every week and that's done with our electric community car, Carwen, which is powered by renewable energy produced by PV panels through another of our enterprises, Ynni Ogwen. It's currently funded through a grant but we also take a modest 10% commission that helps pay for the service. In the longer term Cadwyn will need to be self-financing and that's part of our ambition to improve the local economy."

Plaid Cymru's Llyr Gruffydd MS added: 

“It's often said that crises bring out the best in people and that certainly seems to be the case with the community-based food industry cooperating to transform the economy in this part of Gwynedd.

“The Cadwyn Ogwen initiative is one local example of how social enterprises can work with private firms to promote and grow businesses as well as making the local economy more resilient and inter-connected. These are all small steps to building back a better Welsh economy after the pandemic and we will continue to promote these initiatives. 

"That’s why Plaid’s #ImBuyingLocal campaign is urging everyone to make that extra effort to back Welsh food and drink producers wherever possible. We also want to celebrate the world-class produce Wales has to offer."