RSS
 

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.


 
 

Tags: , , , ,

  1. McDonald's UK Online Communications Executive

    August 19, 2010 at 11:32 am

    Dear Welsh Food Bites

    I’m from the McDonald’s press office and after seeing your post on the Royal Welsh Show, thought I’d get in touch to let you know a little more about McDonald’s and why they were at the show.

    McDonald’s is a proud supporter of Welsh agriculture and recently, at the Royal Welsh Show, pledged its ongoing support for Welsh organic dairy farmers following record coffee and breakfast sales in Wales.

    As a result of the coffee and breakfast sales reaching an all time high in Wales and combined with earlier opening hours, last year McDonald’s used 1.1 million litres of organic milk in Wales alone. This increased demand for high quality, organic milk means that McDonald’s has continued its commitment to sourcing organic milk from Welsh organic dairy farmers and in turn helping to provide security for these farmers’ futures, particularly in the face of an overall decline in demand for organic produce since the start of the recession.

    McDonald’s has a good relationship with the organisers of the Royal Welsh Show and many Welsh journalists who attend the show each year. The sponsorship of the media centre aims to provide journalists with a quality cup of ethically sourced coffee or tea with organic semi skimmed milk to keep them going during the show. Each cup of coffee sold in McDonald’s is made from 100% Arabica beans sourced from Rainforest Alliance certified farms and the organic milk is sourced from British dairy farmers.

    Last year McDonald’s served over 50 million customers across its 61 restaurants in Wales – half of which are franchised to local men and women. McDonald’s franchisees are proud of their businesses and are committed to investing in their people and their local communities throughout Wales.

    I hope this has been of interest and demonstrates why McDonald’s continues to support Welsh agriculture and the Royal Welsh Show. McDonald’s has a number of sites where you can find out more about the company such as http://www.aboutmcdonalds.com or http://www.mcdonalds.co.uk. You can also ask questions about McDonald’s or see our quality scouts online at http://www.makeupyourownmind.co.uk.

     
  2. admin

    August 19, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    Thanks for your response.
    I’m delighted to hear of McDonald’s ongoing support of Welsh agriculture and organic dairy farmers. I’m also pleased that you are supporting Rainforest Alliance certified farms. You haven’t though commented about the tea you kindly supplied, which was from PG Tips. Would it not be possible for you to have sourced your tea, at least for RWAS, from the Welsh Brew Tea company? It’s the tea we use in our office, not just to support a Welsh company but we believe it’s a better tea than PG Tips. I’m sure Welsh Brew Tea would be happy to talk to you about supplying your 61 restaurants in Wales as well. As a working journalist the chance to have tea and coffee available at an event is more than welcomed, a lot of talking does make you thirsty – but a little more thought and working together with another Welsh food supplier would be even better.