Butcher profile: Ieuan Edwards, The Welsh Butcher, Conwy

  • 12.07.2023
  • article
  • Abattoirs
  • Lifestyle
  • Meat
  • Sustainable Livestock
  • Marianne Landzettel

In our series of butcher profiles, food and farming writer, Marianne Landzettel, meets butchers from across the UK who have built their business around high-welfare, sustainably produced meat. Marianne finishes her tour in North Wales, with a visit to Master Butcher, Ieuan Edwards, who runs a meat processing business with an award-winning shop and deli in the town of Conwy.

Ieuan Edwards is the youngest of three brothers who grew up on the family farm in the Conwy Valley in North Wales. Ieuan was 13-years-old when his father told him the farm wasn’t big enough for three boys and he would have to go into another business. “I was so relieved,” says Edwards, “I had no interest in farming – my Dad knew me well and made the right call. Even at that age, I loved buying and selling things, from bikes to fishing rods.”

His father had already arranged a job for him: the following week, he would start as ‘Saturday boy’ at the butcher shop in nearby Llanrwst. Initially, that meant washing up, cleaning and sweeping floors, but Edwards says he loved the work from day one: the atmosphere, the banter with the hill farmers who came to town on a Saturday, the camaraderie among the staff.

Leaving school aged 16, he walked straight into a full-time job at the butcher’s. The young shop manager there taught him to make sausages and burger patties by hand, and also to slaughter: sheep and cattle were bought directly from local farms and, on two days a week, the butchers used the small local abattoir to slaughter the animals. Eighteen months into his training, Edwards was finally allowed to start carcase butchering. “The first cuts were briskets from the forequarter, you can’t mess that up too badly; but the money is in the hindquarter and the steaks,” he says.

Edwards enjoyed becoming an accomplished butcher, but he continued to pursue any opportunity to buy things and sell them on for a profit. In December 1982, aged just 20, he spotted an ad for the lease of a butcher’s shop in Conwy. He immediately drove there, parked opposite the shop and observed the number of customers coming and going. “There weren’t many,” he recalls, “so I went in to talk to the butcher and an hour later we had shaken hands on the sale.”

The inside of The Welsh Butcher shows counters of meat and a pig graphic on the ceiling whilst customers browse the produce

When he announced his big news at the dinner table, he says, “My parents were very concerned about how I would finance this deal.” Under the condition that he would never ask his parents for money again, his father finally agreed to give Edwards the monetary equivalent of ten dairy cows. The next day, the bank manager told him that, given his young age and lack of experience, Edwards would need at least another £2,000 to qualify for a loan. “That afternoon I sold my car and some other items for £2,250, went back to the bank and got the money I needed.”

With a cracked marble slab and an old Belfast sink in the back, the shop wasn’t exactly in great shape. “But it was a start, and people in Conwy saw that a young man was making a go of it.” Edwards says he was lucky to be a first generation butcher, no one told him ‘this is how we have always done it’, and he was free to develop his own ideas. He joined the Q Guild of Butchers to meet like-minded people and attended butcher training courses in Holland and Switzerland. “To see how immaculate their shops were, was a revelation; there certainly was no sawdust on the floor. I learnt how important good hygiene is – it’s a ‘silent sales person’. Perception matters enormously,” says Edwards.

He took out another loan, refurbished the shop and saw sales go up by 25% as a result. In 1993, the Barclay’s bank building on the other side of the high street came up for sale, and once again Edwards closed the deal the same afternoon. He borrowed more money, had the building stripped to the core and refitted with state of the art equipment, including a hot counter. In a tourist town like Conwy, selling a selection of hot foods to go, made a lot of sense. “Meat is a commodity,” says Edwards. “As a butcher, I needed to figure out in how many ways I can sell it: boned out, marinated, cooked, in a roll, as a burger, in a pie.” The shop now, not only employs butchers, but a chef and a baker too.

A sign post points in three directions to Welsh PGI Beef, Welsh PGI Lamb and British Pork

“In 2000, I noticed that ‘regional food’ suddenly became a topic with supermarkets and started planning,” says Edwards. “First, we had to choose a product. Our sausages had not only won awards, but are also popular and versatile – they can be part of breakfast, lunch or dinner and they are great for a barbecue.”

Supermarkets don’t buy from a butcher owning one shop, they need a supplier with a production facility. Edwards approached Conwy Council and was offered land in a newly opened business park. The Welsh Development Agency gave him a grant, and together with a bank loan of £1 million, he bought four units in the business park: one to house the new processing facility and three to rent out and make the whole project financially viable. In the first year, ASDA came on board and stocked Edwards’ sausages in four shops. In the second year, as Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons began selling his produce across shops in North Wales, Edwards broke even. He now supplies to 800 outlets and the brand is available through Ocado too. “I started out 40 years ago with no staff and £35,000 turnover a year. Today we have a turnover of £15 million and 80 to 85 full time and part time staff.”

Staff turnover is extremely low. Several employees have been working with Edwards for 40 years, and there is now a managing director taking care of the day-to-day running of the operation.

To see the production, which is now spread across all four of his units in the business park, Edwards kits us out with white coats, hairnets and boots. Huge meatgrinders produce pork mince for sausages and beef mince for burgers and meatballs. Once the spices have been added, sausages can be stuffed and burger patties formed.

There are some teething problems with the brand new automated system for sausage production. Once it is fully functional, the sausages will be automatically filled, cut, placed in trays which are then sealed, and slipped into a printed sleeve with the ‘Edwards, the Welsh Butcher’ label providing all necessary product information. In a second unit, a butcher rubs Edwards special curing mix of spices and salt into meat which will be dry cured for five days before the bacon is sliced and packed. Edwards uses only Welsh beef, carrying the PGI – protected geographical indication – logo. Leeks and honey, too, are sourced from Wales. The pork shoulder meat needed for the sausages is British; farms in Wales are ideally suited for beef and lamb production, but not for raising pigs. There is a test kitchen where the quality of products is assessed, and new recipes are tried out and tested.

Before a new recipe goes into production, customers in Conwy get their say – any new product first goes on sale in the shop, which underwent another total refit in 2014. Edwards brought in a design team to visually guide customers. The left side of the shop, where fresh meat and meat products are sold, is a modern take on a traditional craft butcher’s with rustic wood decor and marbled tiles. The right side with ready-to-go food such as pies, quiches, sandwiches and scotch eggs and a hot counter has the feel of a deli.

A woman stands over a deli counter displaying an array of pies

The shop recently got the ‘Butcher’s Shop of the Year’ award. “It has its own identity,” says Edwards, “we still carcase butcher here, and everything we sell has been produced on the premises.”

Edwards’ goal is for the Welsh Butcher brand to become nationally known, but the shop will remain the heart and soul of his enterprise. Investment into new machines helps to cut costs as well as saving staff from having to perform repetitive tasks such as manually placing six sausages into packaging trays. Instead, they can work to their strengths and employ their skills: salting meat by hand, adjusting seasoning, fine tuning machinery and planning ahead to ensure that the production runs smoothly and efficiently. “We will not cut back on the quality of the ingredients we use,” says Edwards.

He cares deeply about the landscape he grew up in, about food and food quality, and he cares about people. The ethics of a craft butcher remains central to what he does: if you shop at a supermarket and your budget is tight, the sausages, burgers or bacon you buy should still be made with good ingredients and skill. The origin of the word ‘manufacture’ implies ‘made by hand’. In that sense, Edwards has gone from craft butchery to craft manufacture.


With thanks to National Craft Butchers (NCB) for helping us to develop this series. To find out more, visit NationalCraftButchers.co.uk and to read NCB’s 2023 Big British Butchers Survey 2023, click here.

Photos by @M.Kunz.

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