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Archive for November, 2010

Better Layout In Winter Fair Food Hall

30 Nov

Congratulations to whoever listened to the raft of complaints from all sides after the disastrous launch of the Food Hall at this year’s Royal Welsh Show. The layout was changed from it’s corridor style to smaller sectors and those with outside stands were turned inwards giving them a better outlook than staring at a breeze black wall. In July, the ice-cream stands, which used to be just outside the hall with a decked area, were brought inside, so there were 56 stands in the new Food Hall. Now this building was specifically designed as a Food Hall to hold 60 stands, but somewhere the sums have gone wrong or been ignored and it’s certainly not a great building for the cost of £1.6m. The main problem is how the contractors/designer have installed the electric points which then govern and restrict where stands can be sited. The Food Hall is a barn of a place, just a single floor, although I could see one first floor room on one side. Maybe the money had run out by then, but it’s still a huge disappointment for such a huge investment and what should be the perfect setting for Wales to showcase its fabulous food. 

Just to recap, at the Winter Fair there were 44 stands, arranged differently to the Royal Welsh and for the most part working well. As always some producers didn’t have a good site for the products they were selling, but maybe the onus is with the producers and for them to ask if they can be put in a specific area, I can’t see why not, because if you don’t ask, you are not going to get are you? A few stands doing hot-food-to-go, were down at the bottom of the hall and it might have been a good idea if these could have been grouped together nearer the front of the hall to encourage more people to use the Food Hall for their lunch, instead of the many mobile vans that seemed to be doing a brisk trade. Of course I’m aware that they pay for their stands too, but not all were selling Welsh food and it made me chuckle passing one of them selling Welsh Black beef  – as their Show Special Offer was bacon butties!

I was pleased to see there were a small number of chairs and tables in the Food Hall, not sure if it was an after-thought, but it was welcomed, albeit stuck rather too close to the gents to make it a really enjoyable experience!

My final query is that there were many, many display units all over the Food Hall, allowing visitors the opportunity to collect their free copy of the latest True Taste book, but why alongside the True Taste books at these ‘multi display units’ were there copies of Welsh Rarebits and Great Little Places? Has Welsh Assembly Government,  WAG Food bought the company out or just doing them a favour? I have just gone on the rarebits website and all I can find is a list of winners for 2009/10, maybe I should tell them we now have the winners for 2010/11……..

 
 

What’s The Future For Food Festivals?

26 Nov

It will come as no surprise to those that know me, or are regular readers of Welsh Country magazine, that I love anything foodie and that of course includes food festivals.  But when out and about over the last few months I have constantly been asked if Food Festivals will still get support from the Welsh Assembly Government, (WAG) next year. It’s a question that’s concerning many food producers and understandably so – for many of them Festivals are the main part of their marketing plan and they are worried if funding is withdrawn how many festivals will actually take place next year. All Food Festival organisers and producers are aware that Miller Research have been asked by WAG to visit all their supported Festivals this year and report back and of course rumours have been rife ever since.

I have of course asked WAG what is happening and yesterday was told that Food Festival organisers were pre-warned of the circumstances surrounding the funding for Festivals for future years to come, at their yearly conference in January. So we have to wait until the end of January 2011, to find out if there is funding for next year or not.

So far with Welsh Country magazine, our policy has been promote Welsh food and WAG. Our editorial has always been positive, any disagreements with WAG have been behind closed doors. Our support for the industry is shown by devoting around 10 pages to Welsh food.  Our thinking for always putting a positive spin on Welsh food was to excite and encourage our readers and to persuade them that the Welsh food industry was pulling in the same direction and working together. We’ve also been running our ‘Buy Local – Eat Local’ campaign for years now and our Best of Welsh & Borders, ( BOW), producers list is, in my view, the best listing in Wales.

But as the winds of change bluster through the Senedd and budget cuts in many areas are inevitable, is this the time to ask our BOW if they’d like us to change our editorial policy and discuss issues that are causing concern amongst them in print?

I accept that WAG has to make budget cuts,of course I do, there isn’t an option. However the public would be more likely to accept them with reluctant good grace, if they believed that WAG was an efficient operation that didn’t work frequently with a total disregard for the value of tax payer’s money.       

I must find time to check out the rankings of other Welsh food and Welsh Government food supported websites, but thanks to supporters of welshfoodbites, it is now ranked at 1,044,899 across the world, according to Alexa’s monthly rankings. So readers will be aware of those food festivals I love and those that fail to impress me.  As a Welsh foodie it is sad that I feel there are quite a few festivals, that in my view, simply don’t deserve funding. I wonder too why WAG over the years  WAG have continued to support them, apparently without little assistance to improve. It’s only this year that Miller Research have been asked to visit and report on all food festivals. Saying that, we don’t know how  costly this evaluation exercise is, or as yet the results, but it could be a step in the right direction of simply a waste of money. We’ll have to wait until January to find…………..

For those organisers who have been chasing me for information about next year, bear with me, I’ll be in touch shortly.

 
 

True Taste Awards Tittle Tattle…………..

22 Nov

Gosh the TTA really does get the gossip and the questions flowing. Sadly I have not been able to answer them all but I will find out, but follows are some of the thoughts and questions that have been raised with me. I think my main query is that as the Great Taste Awards are so well-established, it seems to me to have been fairly straight-forward and reasonably easy to follow their template and introduce some Welsh tweaks. Firstly who judges the TTA? In my view, it should be the top people in each category, that’s what our producers deserve. Then if their products fail to make the TTA grade, they will get in-depth, constructive feedback that should help them improve/alter their product and be worthy winners next year. Not being a chef, I’m puzzled that the TTA have only awards for 1st, 2nd, 3rd – which are their Gold, Silver and Bronze, I don’t understand that many of the products submitted were worthy of ……………..well nothing. How do the TTA judging panel arrive at their decision that a product is Gold, but that one is only Silver etc? How do they set their ‘standard and what is it’? I know I’m not alone in preferring the GTA awards, were any number of products can achieve their 3, 2 or 1 Star awards. A 1 Star is awarded and is judged, ‘Close To Perfect’ 2 Stars mean ‘Faultless’ and 3 Stars, their highest accolade means, ‘Wow You Must Taste This Product.’  Now, simple as I am,  even I can understand grading – which surely means that Joe Public will too. Now isn’t this what it’s all about?

One cynical comment from a producer, who’s obviously in training for my job, says that often the TTA winners have a very close relationship with the amount of grant funding, Welsh Assembly Goverment,   WAG have put into their company. But that’s not something I’ve investigated…… ………………………….so far!

I was told about one producer who got through the early rounds and then sent in samples, to find out later that their product had been turned into ‘another food product’ without them knowing. I’m amazed that something like that can happen in a competition scenario, but hopefully that way of judging products has now stopped.  Another producer got feedback from products their company had not even entered!!!  

Massive amounts of money are invested into the TTA and of course I’m aware of sour grapes amongst producers, that will always happen, but I feel there’s room for improvement if the Welsh objective is to make the TTA awards even better and more prestigious. We must make the most of this huge funding opportunity and the many PR opportunities that it opens up for us.

 
 

Cambrian Mountains Initiative

19 Nov

I took a phone call last night in the office and whilst we were chatting, I was asked why neither Ian nor I had attended any of the events held by the CMI. Well that was easy to answer – we knew absolutely nothing about it!!!! Ian rang CMI this morning to be told that FBA from Aberystwyth were doing the PR for their project and had informed a very wide spectrum of food producers and press  ………..well not all, unless Welsh Country magazine, the magazine that has been supporting Welsh food for six years, are not considered by FBA to qualify as press.

I’m annoyed that we were left out or just ignored, as I’m sure many of our Best Of Welsh & Borders would like to have known about it, but the saving grace was the letter that was with the invite which was addressed to ‘Dear Producer’, so I hoped that they had all been contacted. However later this morning, Ian was talking to a food producer who is in the catchment area of CMI and they knew nothing about it. So how could they possibly be missed off any mailing to producers for goodness sake. They were furious, complaining about ‘agencies/companies’ being paid a lot of money but not delivering the goods as far as producers were concerned.

But why has this happened? If CMI don’t want ‘all’ press to know –I guess that’s there choice, but for goodness sake do make an effort to tell the food producers.

 
 

Winter Fair

17 Nov

It was an exceptionally busy ‘foodie’ time last week, but one of the producers I spoke to got me thinking about the Winter Fair and tradestand costs in the Food Hall. I assumed this producer was attending the event, but was told no as the cost of the corner stand they required was £405 plus vat for the two days. Of course producer’s costs don’t end there, with preparation, travelling, wages, often accommodation; the outlay list is a long one. A tradestand has to be very busy indeed to cover all those costs, let alone make money as food margins are not that high. Plus there’s the competition from the huge number of fast food vans that are there too and not all selling food made in Wales.

I understand that there are 42 producers booked in for the Winter Fair as against 44 last year and 56 at this years’ the Royal Welsh. So it seems that numbers are holding up, but I’ll certainly be doing my own quality check!!!!

After endless complaints about the layout of the Royal Welsh Food Hall, and not just from me I might add, I’m pleased to report that ‘the powers-that-be’ have made changes to the layout. Let’s hope that this improves  customer traffic flow and allows visitors to be able to take their time and see and taste the fantastic Welsh food we have on offer.   

My chat with this producer then focused on how trade had been generally this year at food festivals and farmers markets and how customer numbers and customer spend had seriously dropped, often as much as 50%. That’s a frightening figure and if others are seeing a similar drop in takings, then our food industry is going to have an even tougher time as the recession continues to bite. 

 WAG, Welsh Assembly Government, announces their budget today and we’ll soon know how this will affect our food industry. There has been no news yet as to what happens to food festival budgets next year and as we are media sponsors to Llanwrtyd Wells which runs early April, hopefully we’ll hear soon so decisions can be made.

 
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True Taste Awards 2010

15 Nov

Congratulations to all the winners at True Taste Awards for 2010, held last Thursday evening in Pembrokeshire. Of course I was delighted to see so many of our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers collecting so many of those coveted awards – proof indeed that you are the best!!

I do hope that you are all able to take advantage of any PR on offer and make the most of all the publicity that comes your way. I know many of you throw up your hands in horror and say you just haven’t time to do ‘ that PR stuff ’ – but as you are all well aware, it’s not just making superb products, it’s the marketing and selling too. Our team is waiting to be inundated with PRs from our BOW producers and then we can get them up on welshcountry.co.uk for you.

One winner, who is not with us yet on BOW, surprised me recently.  At an event, there were no business cards or literature on the stand, but whilst we were chatting, I asked if any products had been entered the Great Taste Awards as well as the True Taste Awards, but I was told no. Products had been entered in the TTA as there was no fee involved and the Great Taste charge a fee per product entry……………..

 
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True Taste Awards 2010 – Winning Best Of Welsh Producers

12 Nov

The Wales the True Taste Food & Drink Awards 2010-11 awards dinner was held last night (11th November 2010) at the Withy Bush Showground in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire.

There are 15 award categories covering all areas of the food and drink production, retail and hospitality sectors. More than 350 companies have entered this year’s awards, and at the preliminary judging in June the judges sampled and sipped over 700 products, with the final judging held in Cardiff.

The Following Best of Welsh Producers have won a True Taste 2010-2011 award which recognise quality, innovation and excellence in the Welsh food and drink industry.

 

North Wales

 Blas ar Fwyd, Conwy – Gold

Gill’s Plaice, Gwynedd – Gold, Silver, 2 Bronze

Hawarden Estate Farm Shop, Flintshire – Bronze

Hufenfa’r Castell, Harlech – Silver

Llandudno Smokery, Llandudno – Bronze

 

Mid Wales

Monty’s Brewery Ltd, Powys – Bronze

Y Caban (Sarah Bunton Luxury Chocolates), Ceredigion – Silver

Trethowan’s Dairy Limited, Ceredigion – Silver

 

South West Wales

 

Andrew Rees Butchers, Pembrokeshire –Silver

Carmarthenshire Cheese Company, Carmarthenshire – Gold 

Caws Cenarth Cheese, Carmarthenshire – Gold

 Pembrokeshire Tea Company Ltd, Pembrokeshire – Gold

Sanclêr Organic, Carmarthenshire – Gold, Bronze

The Little Welsh Deli, Swansea – Silver

Welsh Seafoods Ltd, Pembrokeshire – Silver

 

 South East Wales

Douglas Willis Ltd, Cwmbran – Silver

Gwynt Y Ddraig Cider Ltd, Vale of Glamorgan – Silver

 
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WAG Food Festival Funding Is Private

08 Nov

On Saturday I met a food festival organiser and we chatted about how well their festival had gone this year. We then talked about funding  and what might happen next year following the festival review being undertaken by Miller Research.

I’m still waiting to find out when we’ll get a timescale for what is likely to happen next year from Welsh Assembly Government , WAG Food. This organiser was under the impression that the amounts awarded to festivals are public knowledge, but not when told of my conversations with WAG Press Office, who are unable to give me this information. The Press Office have informed me that approximately 52 Food Festivals were awarded: £471.0k  –  2008 – 2009, £527.9k  –  2009 – 2010, £529.1k  –  2010 – 2011, which on the face of it looks as though festivals are getting more funding, not less each year, which goes against what I’m being told by the festivals themselves. However without the actual figures, it simply doesn’t make sense.

In the past when I have asked WAG Food,  I have been sent the breakdown per festival, but seemingly not now. I have not been given an explanation from the Press Office,  just ‘We are not in a position to release the individual amounts awarded to each festival’.

Well that’s not helpful. It’s only taken me a month to finally be told I can’t have that information, but I do wonder why this is now private information …………………………

 
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Cowbridge Food Festival Is A Huge Success

01 Nov

The producers I spoke to on Sunday had a brilliant day on Saturday with many of them running low on stock. I think it was the best attendance they have had and I’m pleased that locals and visitors came along and enjoyed a wonderful selection of great local food. That was great news to hear and gives the producers and their bank balance – a real boost. One area I particularly like at Cowbridge is the hot food area; I really do think that this is one of the best for quality and variety on the festival circuit. I think they only drawback which I worry about everywhere is this are gets so busy and there’s not much space outside to sit, eat and enjoy this tasty food. People were struggling especially if they had young children and babies in buggies to find a spot to sit. It was a pity that tentage area couldn’t have been much larger but of course I do understand, tentage is expensive to hire in and the budget is sadly not there, but it would have made such a difference.

Now I have to confess an addiction………… because guess who was in this lovely tented area? Yes, SamosaCo, a company who excel in producing authentic Indian meals and snacks, that are not only tasty, they’re often locally sourced too.  But I just can’t resist them and did succumb to their chicken biriani, which was totally delicious.         

I was delighted to hear such good feedback on Polly and her team, that they had looked after everyone so well. It’s what I expected to hear though and is why I enjoy Cowbridge so much. It’s a very well organised event and Polly’s team do work hard to help and are always polite and friendly, which is not easy to do when you’re dealing with the public as well. I was also pleased to see some of the High Street shops open on Sunday and with plenty of street entertainment; it gave Cowbridge town quite a buzz.