Good things are happening in British business
Find out how some of our customers have evolved their businesses in innovative ways.
Read time: 4 mins Added date: 15/09/2023
Read how our support enabled a potato farming family to branch out by building a vodka and gin distillery in the stunning Cornwall countryside.
Steve Dustow’s great-great-grandfather, Stafford, bought Colwith Farm in 1904. It’s remained in the family for five generations and been given a fresh twist through diversification. The region’s first plough-to-bottle distillery has its home on the farm and uses potatoes from the family’s 250 acres.
While Steve’s brother Chris, dad Mike and grandad Clive increased the farm’s crop growing capabilities from 40 acres, Steve went to university to study business economics. With the farm unable to sustain another salary on his return, he went into construction project management. Steve later returned to the farm, and a conversation with a friend about vodka production sparked a business idea.
The brothers began exploring whether distilling vodka was something they could do at Colwith Farm. While many distilleries buy in ready-made spirit as a base for their products, Steve wanted to produce his own on-site. Despite many people pouring cold water on the idea, he was determined to keep going.
After visiting the Netherlands to do a distilling course and speaking to others in the industry, Steve followed his vision and secured planning permission for the new distillery on Colwith Farm.
However, once that bridge was crossed, it took around two to three years to finalise the government licences needed to make their own base spirit from scratch.
Steve Dustow - Founder, Colwith Farm Distillery
Steve built the distillery himself with the help of a small team. Lloyds Bank provided the funding for the construction. Lloyds Bank Agricultural Relationship Manager, Jeremy Weekes said: “The key thing was having the confidence in the family and the generational relationship we had with them to allow Steve to go away on his own and create a business based on projections.”
Colwith Farm Distillery opened in the summer of 2018. Steve and Head Distiller Jordan Gilbert started making vodka from scratch, with a lot of trial and error involved. When they were happy with the first product, they sent a sample to the San Francisco World Spirits competition, picking up a Silver Award.
Determined to go further, they bought all the world’s best vodkas to benchmark their Aval Dor product. It’s since won three Double Gold Awards, which resulted in the most prestigious Platinum Award, something no other UK vodka distillery has achieved. The company’s Cornish gin is a Gold Award winner made from botanicals grown on the farm and elsewhere.
In 2020, further diversification came out of necessity through COVID-19. Things changed dramatically overnight, with staff initially furloughed. After being inundated with requests to produce hand sanitiser, they discovered they could pivot quickly because of their licences, knowledge and expertise. They were soon supplying the local area with sanitiser.
The family’s relationship with Lloyds Bank enabled support in the form of Bounce Back Loans and increased overdraft facilities.
While having award-winning products opens doors, the distillery’s sustainability credentials also played a critical role in getting listed in stores such as Selfridges and Harvey Nichols.
Using potatoes from Colwith Farm, water from the local spring, solar panels on the distillery roof, recyclable bottles/packing and potato waste on the farmland means the production process is completely circular.
Sustainability is a critical consideration for Steve when choosing business suppliers, and he’s delighted to see Lloyds Bank doing so much in this area. The support provided includes advice on how businesses can grow sustainably and transition to the low carbon economy.
It’s been an exhilarating and rewarding journey from the first seeds of diversification into a multi-award-winning distillery.
The brothers live on the farm with their families and are driven to leave a legacy for their children. “We’ve created something whereby if one of the kids wants to go into marketing, sales or drive a tractor, they can. If we didn’t have the next generation coming in and showing an interest, it wouldn’t justify the hours long term,” Steve explains.
Steve’s wife, Sophie, has supported him throughout. She’s a quantity surveyor but does all the accounts/payroll and plays a vital role in the smooth running of the business.
The relationship between Colwith Farm Distillery and Lloyds Bank goes well beyond providing financial assistance. Steve and Jeremy are in regular contact to discuss the bigger picture in areas such as succession planning, putting contingencies in place and future-proofing the business.
Jeremy has some final words for other entrepreneurs looking to diversify and expand: “Most successful companies start as a hobby or skill that’s turned into a business through passion. My job is to ensure the groundwork has been done to put things in place for every eventuality. There are no bad ideas; it’s about having the right answers.”
Find out how some of our other customers have evolved their businesses, helping them become more productive, sustainable and inclusive.
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