Sweet taste of success for Welsh honey.
A MID Wales honey producer has won a major industry award just a few years after having a lightbulb moment about bees whilst recovering from a serious back injury. Scott damaged his back working for a coal merchant and was laid up for 18 months.
It was while recuperating that he had his revelation and after looking inside a hive for the first time, he set out on a careerchanging journey, starting with a few bees in the back garden of his parents' smallholding in Caersws, near Newtown.
Five years later his firm, Hilltop Honey, is a sector leader and this week it collected the Nigel Barden Heritage Award in the 2016 Great Taste awards, London.
The award, presented to producers using historic production methods, rare breeds or heritage varieties, went to Scott's Raw Thyme Honey.
Scott said: "I am a bricklayer by trade and, with only three GCSEs, no one would give me an office job.
"When I injured my back, I realised manual labour was no longer possible, so I wrote down potential alternatives."
These included selling on eBay, setting up on-farm kennels, dog walking - and beekeeping.
It just so happened his old coalyard boss kept bees, and Scott was instantly smitten.
But starting out was traumatic. "The banks wouldn't lend to a 22-year-old with a bad back and a poor school record," he said.
"I managed to get a PS5,000 overdraft and persuaded my parents to give me free rent and food for three years - I said it was my university course.
"It was difficult. I was naive: I didn't know how to write a cheque and the first time I went into a shop with my honey, I was quivering with fear. I was paying myself just PS2,000-a-year.
"At the end of the three years, family members urged me to give it up. My ex-girlfriend told me to get a proper job. But I gave myself an extra year and that's when the business took off following deals with Ocado and Holland & Barrett."
Of 10,000 products entered in the Great Taste awards, only 141 were awarded 3 stars, including Hilltop's Raw Thyme Honey.
Nigel Barden, broadcaster and cook, said Scott's special award reflected his drive to succeed as well as the quality of his products and his work to enhance bee habitats.
He said: "Not only are Scott and his fellow beekeepers making exceptional classic raw honey the way nature intended, Scott with but he also works with Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust to help protect the bees that make all this possible."
Hilltop's 3-star Raw Thyme Honey is sourced from Spain and judges commended its "extraordinary aroma" and "startling levels of menthol". "Like a walk through a field of thyme and clover," they said.
Three other Hilltop honeys - Raw Yucatan, Raw Orange Blossom and Raw Scottish Heather - also collected single Great Taste stars.
aG yet Now into its fifth year, Hilltop Honey employs nine full time staff, sells raw honey to major high street brands and online customers.
hs oboS Recent growth has been rapid, with orders to supply 340 Sainsbury's stores with three honeys and 477 Tesco stores whis award a with two organic products.
After tripling turnover last year, Hilltop is on course for 200% growth this year, which is forcing the company to look for larger premises and more honey suppliers across the UK and Europe. Rural affairs secretary Lesley Griffiths said Hilltop's rise reflected the wider strength of the Welsh food and drink sector.
"The industry is a vital part of the economy and with hard work we see real potential to increase turnover by 30% by 2020," she said.
Hilltop's Raw Thyme Honey was also in the running for Great Taste Golden Fork award as the best food or drink product in Wales.
Bodnant Welsh Food's Traditional Welsh Caerphilly, Eglwysbach, was also a contenter but the award went to Monmouthshre's Apple County Cider Co for its Dabinett Medium Cider, made from bittersweet apples.
Judges described the tipple as a "very quaffable" cider.