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Archive for July, 2010

Food Festivals

30 Jul

The recent post about Welsh food festivals and Miller Research has certainly got some of you going about the festival survey and the price of the Conference being held at Abergavenny Food Festival. Thanks for all your comments emailed directly to me and I understand why you have not posted them officially. Miller Reasearch have also responded directly to me, but they don’t seem to be too happy.  I’m sure they’ll post more details if they have the time to do so. I cannot see any problem in having a discussion – it’s in your interest that every food festival is vibrant and busy!

 
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Abergavenny Food Festival Conference 2010

29 Jul

 I’ve just received a Press Release from Welsh Assembly Government, WAG, which has been sent around our Best Of Welsh producers, (BOW) for their information. Included in the release  is the following:  

Abergavenny Food Festival Conference

This year’s Abergavenny Food Festival Conference will be of particular interest to anyone involved in food festivals or in the role of food in building local economies.

“Food Festivals: The Next Generation” will take a hard look at where food festivals are now and the ways in which they can evolve. Guest speakers will address issues such as growing a festival without losing touch with producers, how local food and food events can make a town successful, approaches to measuring the success of festivals, and new ways of developing a loyal audience and marketing festivals through an online community.  

 Workshop sessions will include:

  • An interactive tour of Abergavenny, to look at how food can be used to bring the town alive;
  • A Dragon’s Den for new festival ideas;
  • Hands-on session on using social media;
  • Practical branding – how to position an event to appeal to a wider audience.

The Conference takes place on 17th September 2010, at the Priory Centre, Abergavenny. Tickets cost £125, including lunch, post-conference drinks reception and two-day festival stroller ticket.

I’ve quickly had a comment through gritted teeth I think, from a producer who rightly queries, who this conference is really for? With a price ticket of £125.00 I agree with this producer’s comment that it’s for a select few whose ticket might well be paid for by their employers, i.e. by county councils or maybe the majority from WAG…….

Why not invite some smaller producers to it? The producers are the important link in this food chain, but it’s not the view I get from our BOW producers, they feel left out. I am losing all faith in Wales’ ability to communicate with our food producers, they really must learn to listen to the people that really matter and that has to be our producers – without them you don’t have a festival or even a farmers market.  

I’m not annoyed with Abergavenny for at least organising a conference but most concerend about the high price and those it will therefore exclude.

 
 

True Taste Food & Drink Awards 2010

28 Jul

The True Taste Awards are an important part of the Welsh food calendar. This year the presentation of these coveted awards are being held in Pembrokeshire at the Withybush Showground in Haverfordwest on Thursday 11 November. With 15 award categories, which aim to cater for all areas of the food and drink production, retail and hospitality sectors, competition will be hot. 

I was talking about the awards with a producer today and he asked me if I knew anything about the True Taste Awards magazine which is produced each year. Well I told him it’s published by Welsh Assembly Government,  WAG Food and was last year produced by Quadrant Media in Cardiff. I have heard thought that three additional Agencies are involved with Quadrant in the production, but that’s the extent of my knowledge. I’m surprised that it takes so many companies to do this magazine which is 150 pages in total English & Welsh but I’d be more than interested in the how much money it takes from WAG’s budget. …………………

 
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Miller Research – WAG Food Festivals

26 Jul

WAG Food have asked Miller Research from Abergavenny to visit all the food festivals they are supporting this year, 52 in total I think. They are then reporting back to, Welsh Assembly Government,  WAG  on their findings. I saw Miller Research at Llanwrytd Wells in April, the Welsh Beer & Cider in Cardiff and then at Cardigan Bay Sea Festival earlier this month. However on Saturday, they weren’t at Lampeter.  Anyone know why? I’ve had an email in directly to me suggesting a puncture in one of their bicycle tyres might have been the reason!!! But having asked the question through WAG, I have been told that Miller Research did eventually make it to Lampeter festival just before lunch-time after their car broke down. …………..

 
 

Lampeter Food Festival – 24th July

26 Jul

I wonder how many food producers are aware how little signage there is at many food festivals. Do the organisers assume that ‘everyone’ knows where their festival is being held? Or are they focused on just attracting local people to their event?  Because we have had a stand there for the last few years and as it’s fairly local to us, it didn’t cause us a problem, but the first sign we saw was opposite the gates to Lampeter University – indicating the entrance!! Come on organisers, make an effort to attract more visitors please, our producers need every opportunity possible to make sales.

 
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RWAS – Tuesday – Food Centre Horeb

22 Jul

I have been told today that there was a reception in RWAS food hall on Tuesday, held by Food Centre Horeb. Scant details as to what it was all about, but how sad that as a journalist and editor of Welsh Country magazine which is promoting and  passionate about Welsh food, I was not invited. I can only wonder why…………….

 
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Royal Welsh Show – Official Opening of New Food Hall

21 Jul

Royal Welsh Show – Monday

I had a reasonably early start to my day, signing in to the Press Office just after 7.30. Once there I was greeted with a large sign ‘MacDonalds Press Room, yes I was in the Royal Welsh Showground, but I failed to understand the Welsh connection with MacDonalds, apart from I guess that they paid handsomely for being in the Press Office. Anyway their vending machine, which is what I took their sponsorship as, allowed me to have PG Tips tea, despite the fact that Welsh Brew Tea – which has a far superior flavour and they were right here as always on the showground. I’m on my soapbox already, wondering is anyone responsible for trying to get companies working together. Whoever negotiated the deal with MacDonalds for the Press Room, which has been running for a year or so, can surely suggest, if not state that Welsh Brew tea should be used – and that’s without pushing the case for coffee!

I have been intrigued to see the much heralded food hall. First sights were good with Welsh slate on the roof, although I had been told that Spanish slate was originally put up and had to be taken down! Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones performed the opening ceremony and announced a new deal between the Welsh Assembly Government and the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society to manage the £1.6m food hall. The financial support for the food hall will amount to nearly £300,000 over the three years. I’ve just double-checked with WAG press office and this means RWAS will be paid 100k per year for two events, the RWAS and the Winter Fair. I could be wrong, but I thought the payment WAG made for the old food hall £50,000 – so lucky RWAS to be able to win at the budget cut game.

The new food hall has space for 56 food and drink companies showcasing their products, compared to 44 in the old hall. On entering the hall I was certain I’d see a host of happy smiling, busy producers, but sadly not. The first aisle I walked down the stands looked out onto -a white breeze block wall, no food photography adorning the walls, or a map to help visitors find the stands, just a clinical white breeze block wall – hardly beautiful. The narrow aisles caused difficulties for those with buggies, wheelchairs and hopeless to cope with large numbers of people either. I asked a producer down this aisle run if they had a choice where they were sited, but was told absolutely not, and no point complaining to the ‘powers-that-be’ as their company would be blackballed. WAG tells me blackballing never happens, but if it did there is an official procedure to follow…………………..

However in the entrance hall, there were three stands sited there, which were the Food Centres, True Taste and a Partners Stand, which included Fork2Fork and Pembrokeshire Direct. Were these stands the same price as the others, more expensive or ‘no payment required?’ Who knows, but I guess they were all pleased with their siting!

In the three hours it took me to get around the food hall, the complaints never stopped. Here’s just a selection:

The ‘stowage’ areas for traders to store their chilled/ambient goods are brilliant if an active flow of cold air was provided, but these rooms are ambient; with traders expected to provide their own chilled storage, as required.

Some traders turned up on Sunday only to discover they had to provide their own chillers/freezers for stowed produce, this proved an unanticipated & worrying problem for them – I have no idea what went wrong there or who was at fault, but it was not a good start for some.

For producers of ambient foods such as cakes, chocolate etc, their ‘challenge’ was to prevent product degradation. However instead of the ambient storage they were originally assured would be there, they found themselves stockpiling produce in an enclosed space; competing with the additional heat produced by a myriad of unwelcomed fridges & freezers.

The air-conditioning packed up on Monday and I heard many visitors entering the food hall, found it too hot and said “let’s just leave!” Is this what food producers had paid their hard-earned cash for? Goodness me, we weren’t even in the middle of a heat wave.

There are three stands in prime spots in the entrance hall and according to the site map WAG have given me, one of these stands is for Partners. I’m not sure what ‘partner’ means in WAG speak, but Pembrokeshire Direct and Fork2Fork are both such partners. Now maybe as a producer I’m not uptodate but I thought that WAG had funding both these projects, am I wrong on that? But if I’m right, why should both these paid for ‘partners’ get these good sites? Have they paid the same price as me for their stands?

There was no provision of a Demo Kitchen which is always a popular attraction. I know this is part of the stipulation from WAG for any supported Food Festival, but maybe the RWAS is not classed as a festival, just a showcase to be heavily supported by WAG.

Any visitor wanting to visit the food hall for lunch, then had to tackle the problem of where to eat their purchases. There was no seating at all provided, even on the small patio area down one long side. The people had to resort to sitting on the stone walls, floors or grass and with children & buggies or the elderly, this is really not on.

Now if I was charged building  an igloo and was not an igloo expert, what would I do? Yes, you’ve got it, ask an Eskimo. Now the next tough question, if my brief was to build a food hall, what I’d be sure to do is ask producers for their input!!! They are the people that pay their hard earned money for a stand, with a view to making a profit. They are the front line of promotion for Welsh artisan produce and have a vested interest in the food hall being a tremendous success. They could provide invaluable advice on key areas such as the layout of stands and the buying and browsing behaviour of consumers, they know just how few seconds they have to try and ‘catch’ potential customers as they walk by. Why can’t anyone get the simple message that this is their livelihood?

Why is access so difficult with few doors at the end of the hall that producers have to use to set-up and break-down? I can only guess how long it will take them to get out of there on Thursday night when they are not allowed to use the front and side doors to ease what is bound to be a congested area.

Why were the public allowed in on Sunday when traders were trying to set up?

Traders tell me that they have been charged for 4m frontage and been allocated just  3m, bearing in mind that there has to be an opening for the traders to get in and out from their stands.  So what’s happening here? Three metres frontage is not much considering many producers have quite a few lines and it does reduce the time potential purchasers walking past have time to glance at your wares. Add to this that the layout is in long lines, running from one end to the other. This means if the main aisle is busy, which they invariably were, people couldn’t turn away to find some space, you were just carried along in a body of people, struggling to see any stands at all. I was asked why the layout wasn’t done in blocks, which was funny in a way, because if ‘they’ couldn’t ask the producers what they wanted, ‘they’d’ hardly ask for my input, would they?  But still on layout, why was there a mobile ice-cream van, not Welsh either, just outside the food hall? Plus why were all the ice cream, meat, drink, cheese stands all placed together? Why couldn’t the stands have been spread out to encourage visitors to wander about? Instead of encouraging consumers to sample and purchase the produce on offer and learn more about artisan produce, the scenes were  reminiscent of a supermarket on Christmas Eve, people desperate to get round and get out quickly. I’d have hoped to see a great ambience and producers able to talk about their wares instead of watching a sea of harassed visitors and unhappy producers. Apparently in the past the food hall was laid out in counties which meant visitors could take a food tour of Wales, but no, put producers together selling the same product, must make sense to someone, but not to me.

They new layout had sinks placed between two stalls which apparently the Environmental Health Office, the EHO, have apparently so far ignored. I didn’t think sinks should be shared by different companies, because what aboyut handwashing? Now who allowed that to happen?

Stubbins Marketing, where there selling tomoatoes. They are a multi-million pound company, with a Head Office in Waltham Cross and nurseries in Essex, Cambridgeshire and Cardiff. Another producer, who thought their tomatoes tasted delicious, wanted to purchase them for his products, but was told if he wanted them, he’d to go to ASDA. What a great way for Welsh traders to develop business relationships with each other. I’ve been told that Stubbins have had plenty of funding from WAG for their Cardiff operation, but it’s not the first time I have had complaints that getting Welsh tomatoes is impossible for our food suppliers and that we no longer have a thriving tomato market in Pembrokeshire.

Now back to basics, the loo facilities and in particular the ladies. One female trader was incensed that not only were there not many ladies loos, there were no lidded bins in the ladies or any machines available to purchase feminine hygiene requirements. With a new build, is this really up to standard? Or if in theory it is then RWAS and WAG standards are far too low.

Many of the problems brought to my attention can obviously be classed as teething problems, such as the lights which kept failing and the aircon, but many are rather more serious and do need urgent attention. There’s the opportunity for the producers to move to Glamorgan Hall, an old building but is laid out much better. I can only suggest that WAG starts asking questions, listens to the answers and makes changes. Otherwise as one producer said to me it might just be renamed as the ‘Food Hall Millennium Dome.’

HCC

Still on food onto HCC stand where I saw a party of Chinese who had been invited, along with a Portuguese group both groups – all looking to take on our Welsh meat and lamb. Great news, but if only that didn’t appear to be at the loss of many outlets and endusers here in Wales that struggle to get easy access to our wonderful meat. I know export markets are vital and HCC I’m sure will enjoy sending delegations out to these places, but from what I am told you are not putting your home market first.

Farmers Market

I’m failing with trying to make changes here, no-one wants to listen. I’m fobbed off with the no-money-available scenario, which is a good excuse, but we all know it doesn’t apply to every aspect of food. If WAG can find the money to support the Food Hall, why can’t they find the money to help provide the market with a decent tent, some tables and chairs? Allow them to also fly the Welsh flag professionally and give visitors not only the chance to buy decent Welsh food on the show ground, but to be able to take the time to sit down and enjoy it. It’s hardly that difficult to achieve. ……………………….

In business, as in life ,communication is the key, if only we could get the message through that it is good to talk and even more essential to listen………………………………………………….

For more foodie news visit :www.welshcountry.co.uk or see our latest issue.


 
 

Royal Welsh New Food Hall

15 Jul

There’s been so much hype about the long-awaited new food hall and now it’s here. The Welsh Assembly FFMDD is in charge of the event at RWAS. WAG have promised and have press released that there will be chilled storage, but apparently this has not been commissioned.  I understand that there isn’t a food theatre, so no cookery demonstrations, nor is there anywhere for visitors to sit & enjoy any of their purchases.  I guess you can, in some ways get away with that if the weather is fine and sunny, but what if it’s not? Why cannot we be civilised and help our food producers not only sell their wares for vistors to eat there and then – but also to encourage further purchases to take home? I’ve already had complaints that the floor surface is slippy and the producers will no doubt face a scrum as they are only allowed to set up through the back door and have to be set up on Sunday  – well that should be fun. Looking at the layout of stands I’m not sure why all cheese, beer and ice-creams, meat etc.  are all put together. Maybe it’s just me,  but I’d much prefer them to be spread around as I think it’s a way to get people to cover and browse the whole food hall – but let’s hope that WAG know best!

 
 

Faenol Food & Craft

15 Jul

 Faenol Festival runs from 27th  – 30th August

After not running last year the festival is firing on all cylinders this year for their 10th Anniversary. A first this year is the inclusion of a Food & Craft event which will not only give the audience easy access to wonderful locally sourced food from artisan producers, but an amazing array of art and craft work from talented artists. When I interviewed with Bryn in 2006, I asked why a local food market wasn’t at the festival and ok it has taken some time, but a welcome addition to Bryn’s brilliant festival. Waitrose are sponsoring the demonstration kitchen and already we are inundated with enquiries for tradestands. So whether it’s a picnic basket you want to order, to see Welsh chefs at work, or simply wander the stands to see for yourself what tasty food there is often just on your doorstep. Hope to see you there.       

For tickets: visit: www.faenolfestival.com or tel.08448 889991

For tradestand enquires or sponsorship opportunities please email: faenol@welshcountry.co.uk  or tel. Ian Mole 01559 371986 

Visit: www.welshcountry.co.uk  for more news/updates.

 
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Saundersfoot Food Festival

15 Jul

Held 27th – 28th February.

I attended on the Saturday and was disappointed first of all by the lack of signage on my drive from Ceredigion through to Saundersfoot. In fact it wasn’t just a lack of signs, the first sign I saw was on the side of a large hotel looking onto the festival site in the car park by the harbour!!! I understood that Welsh Assembly Government supported Food Festivals should have twenty stalls there, but I only counted 14 food plus craft and a catering van outside.

I’m not surprised that many food producers did not have a busy weekend and can only hope that next year there is far better signage and publicity to let locals and visitors alike know there is something happening in Saundersfoot. Our artisan food producers deserve much more support if they are to survive.  

I took the trouble to pass my views onto WAG Food and some 6 weeks later received this official response:

Statement on Saundersfoot Festival

The Welsh Assembly Government provides funding for some food festivals but is not responsible for the day-to-day management of these festivals. The level of funding provided differs from festival to festival and each application is dealt with on a case by case basis. An independent evaluation exercise into those festivals funded by WAG is already underway to highlight the effectiveness, value and merits of each festival which will continue into 2011.

Millar Research have got the job of monitoring all 52 festivals this year and into next year. I have no idea exactly how much this excercise is costing WAG, but I have heard that it’s an ‘obscene amount’! For now all we can hope is that their feedback is constructive and helpful, because these festivals are very important to showcase the wonderful products we have here in Wales.