Llaeth Y Llan Yoghurt

overall rating:

1.9

planets

Harri Thomas
7/4/2022
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Seeking a local and sustainable yoghurt brand, I came across charming Welsh supplier Llaeth Y Llan (‘The Village Dairy’). This family-run organisation located on the Tal Y Bryn Farm in North Wales have been producing dairy products, and bio-live yoghurt specifically, since 1985. The company has seen impressive growth and success particularly in the last ten years as its product range has widened and number of stockists increased across England and Wales. Promising to remain ‘local, tasty & honest’, the company prioritises local sourcing, a tight-knit family of workers and a community-oriented ethos. I was curious to investigate how this small company would navigate balancing growth and ambition with a pressing need to heed consumer demands for ethical and sustainable production. I found that Llaeth Y Llan boasts some notable and commendable sustainability efforts but with ample room for improvement and greater transparency. For a smaller company with limited scope to enact dramatic changes to its supply chain and line of production, I feel that Llaeth Y Llan is making modest progress on the sustainability front and providing an affordable, local, and growingly sustainable range of products nationwide.

What it's made of:

0.9

Firstly, it’s important to address the innate environmental harm caused by the global dairy industry, of which Llaeth Y Llan is a small but significant part. Rearing dairy cows, particularly at industrial scale, has worrying environmental and ethical implications. For example, PETA notes that the 13 largest global dairy brands have the same carbon footprint as the entirety of the UK. Numerous other environmental issues arise including methane emissions, excessive land use, deforestation, and water pollution through runoff. In the case of this company particularly, the smaller scale of production might negate issues like excessive land use or large scale emissions from Llaeth Y Llan itself. Regardless of scale however, Llaeth Y Llan contributes to a larger problem within the dairy industry as a whole when it comes to environmental and ecological impact. 

As for the process involved in Llaeth Y Llan’s products, company-specific information is lacking. Probiotic yoghurts generally however are produced through the pasteurisation of milk, followed by fermentation using live cultures. The resulting yoghurt then isn’t heat treated to maintain live bacterial cultures which hold supposed benefits for gut health, digestion, immunity, and other aspects of personal health. Llaeth Y Llan does not disclose the energy sources involved in its production nor the energy consumption, which is likely to be increasing due to increased demand on the company’s products. The company uses 100% Welsh whole cow’s milk across its range, but information on milk sourcing and the source of the added flavourings and live cultures was lacking across social media channels, the company website, and other sources. Particularly concerning is the lack of information on flavourings, as the international sourcing of flavours like mandarin and lemon aren’t at all accounted for. Additionally, information regarding water use and greater specificity concerning animal welfare and conditions would help to boost this rating.

The local sourcing of core ingredients, and fairly uncomplex production process do however mean that Llaeth Y Llan has at least partly engaged with sustainability through the basics of its production. With such a short production line however, it could be argued that Llaeth Y Llan could easily do more to improve the visibility of their sustainability practices, and overall transparency.

How it's made:

2.3

Llaeth Y Llan prioritise traceability and local sourcing in their business model, evidenced by their red tractor assurance certification. This scheme not only certifies the local sourcing of key ingredients like milk (guaranteed to be supplied within 20km of the dairy), but also covers areas of animal welfare and guarantees only limited and essential use of antibiotics and other medications during cattle rearing. These assurances aren’t however advertised by Llaeth Y Llan directly, and so the extent of welfare protections for animals or the extent of antibiotic use aren’t known in detail. The company’s products are reassuringly non-GMO, but none are organic, and the company has yet to announce any plans to diversify into the growing plant-based market. The company’s smaller size might afford them some slack when it comes to rapidly expanding into the vegan market, but hopefully this can be done further along the line. I was disappointed to find a generally limited commentary on the environmental impact of the production process on the company website. This is quite disappointing from an organisation with a relatively uncomplex production line managed internally, where assessments of environmental impact could easily take place.

Affordability is also key here, as the company’s products excel in providing a local yet affordable alternative to larger competitors such as Nestlé or Müller. Unlike those larger competitors however, Llaeth Y Llan has achieved only limited overtly sustainable goals and has no identifiable trajectory or timeline in mind when it comes to concrete sustainable goals. Failing to position their work within larger frameworks such as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, the company offers only promises of continual improvement and dialogue with consumers. Evidence of collaboration with industry peers and governmental agencies is encouraging, and Llaeth Y Llan’s role as part of the Welsh sustainable supply chain collaboration with Castell Howells wholesalers suggests the company is aware of the need to rapidly decarbonise food production generally. The scheme promises greater corporate engagement with ‘biodiversity and nature stewardship, community engagement and reduction of plastics’, a far more expansive sustainability agenda than Llaeth Y Llan takes credit for.

Llaeth Y Llan has succeeded in making incremental progress towards the sustainability of its product packaging. Moving to OPRL standardised labelling allows a greater degree of transparency and allows consumers to make easier consumption choices and comparisons between products. Furthermore, switching from polystyrene to polypropylene plastic pots has improved recyclability, and this has been furthered by the introduction of a card sleeve pot and fully recyclable lid. Overall, this shows encouraging progress and recognition of the need for change, but a greater push towards full recyclability, the use of recycled plastics or even biodegradable packaging would represent a more ambitious sustainable vision from the company.

Who makes it:

1.8

Advertising themselves as fiercely community-oriented, this family-run business seems to prioritise sustainable training and development for their employees. This is evidenced by the company’s position as ambassadors for the Welsh government’s Food and Drink Skills Project, which involves informing employees at all corporate levels of the need for continued ‘fair and responsible employment’, a prioritisation of staff welfare and cohesion, as well as principles of sustainable corporate practice. The company’s role in the scheme also involves the creation of a sustainable business strategy for the company’s future, however this is disappointingly unavailable for public access. Overall, it is evident that the company has shown interest in investing in its 54 employees and the inclusion of sustainability training is even more encouraging for conscious consumers seeking to prioritise companies with more ethical workplace cultures.

The family-run ethos of the company is further exemplified through the openness of its practices, as those keen are able to visit and tour the dairy to see for themselves the working conditions and product quality up close. Openness to the local community is also key, as Llaeth Y Llan grew from initially selling only to local stockists, and now frequently engages with local events and causes including teaching local school children about sustainable agriculture and appearing at cultural events.

Llaeth Y Llan would benefit from making specific information regarding their working conditions and investment in workers more widely available, as this isn’t made massively apparent through the company’s official channels and website. This effort towards transparency would position the company as one which regards sustainability more holistically, engaging with both its social and environmental elements.

It’s clear that Llaeth Y Llan is engaging with sustainable principles through the production and sale of its products, and as a smaller company its progress and achievements are very admirable. Limited transparency regarding sustainable trajectories into the future hinder its rating to an extent, as the company more vocally advertises the locality and traceability of its produce. These are important factors, and they make Llaeth Y Llan’s range an attractive choice for consumers wishing to balance locality, affordability, and sustainability in their choices. Greater specificity is needed when it comes to the company’s commitments to traceability, employee welfare and maintaining minimal environmental impact, however the work done so far and the collaboration with sustainable production schemes is highly encouraging. It will be interesting to see, with the company’s growth and evolution into the future, how its sustainable ambitions are broadened and delivered upon.