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Archive for May, 2011

Llyn Land & Seafood Festival 28th & 29th May

31 May

 It’s some years since I travelled north to Pwllheli to check out this festival, but despite a poor weather forecast I went there on Sunday.

There were a few AA signs driving into Pwllheli which was an improvement on my last visit, but of course more would have been much helpful in attracting even greater numbers of people to visit the Marina. My concern is swelling those visitor numbers and not just relying on locals who should know about the festival and where it is being held.

There were 24 food stands there on Sunday, including a bread man who wasn’t there on Saturday as he was busy doing a market and I spotted 5 True Taste winners too. The traders I spoke to were pleased with the event and had done reasonably well, so that was so good to hear. James from Ralph’s Cider had a good time too and had lots of people not just sampling, but purchasing too and appreciating what good cider and perry this company produces. 

I did wonder whether a £3.00 entrance fee would put people off. Possibly it’s just me that’s anti entrance fees, because the only real freebie was the cookery demos, so I’d love to hear your view on entrance fees. Two adults paying £6.00 to go in, or an extra £6.00 in their pocket to buy ice-creams, jams, chutney, cider etc. it is after all the traders that really need those sales and no more so than in this difficult trading time when everyone is looking for value-for-money and quality food too.   

A good attraction was a paid-for face painting for the kids, that was very popular with people patiently queuing for their child to be transformed into lions, tigers or fairies – that was great fun for them.  There was a cookery demo area too, but when I was wandering around it was used between demos with some musical entertainment, which was a good use of time and space.

It never ceases to amaze me though why traders will go to festivals and markets without business cards or any literature. PR & Marketing is an important part of any business and that does include food too. Come on guys, do the job properly!

I understand that Wag don’t want craft stands at their food events, I await official confirmation on this and so have no idea on their reasoning for this decision, unless they think that Wag are therefore subsidising the crafters. But if that’s the case what’s their view on the non-food stands that were at this festival: the county council, air ambulance, coastguard, coleg menai, and the pharmacy? Are charities excused, or are they looked at being subsidised or simply adding the the event? My view is that some quality craft stands do add to a food event and the longer the people stay there on site, browsing, chatting, eating and drinking, the better.

There was another tented area along with the food marquee that had tables, chairs and food and drink available. I think this was provided by the Sailing Club which was next door and in my view it was just a pity that it couldn’t have been worked to help the producers who had paid and travelled to attend. I’m not saying that this would be easy to arrange, but surely it’s something that is worth looking at for the future. My other huge disappointment was that though this event is titled as a land and seafood fest, there was only one fresh fish stand and one smoked fish stand. I’m not sure what happened to all the other fish producers, where were they? I certainly expected to see many more, especially as this event was situated just by the sea.

 
 

Success For Welsh Food At Smallholder

23 May

Congratualtions to Steve Shearman from Farmer’s Markets in Wales, who put on a great show in the old Food Hall at the Smallholder show this weekend. As already posted, I had expected to find the producers in the new Food Hall, but was relieved to find that sector busy and some relatively producers on Sunday when I visited.

What really made me very angry was the fact that this event received no funding from the WAG, the Welsh Assembly Government.  I’ve no idea who told me, but I knew that Steve attended the festival organisers meeting in February, but I couldn’t work out why. The funding for this event has not, to my knowledge, ever come from Wag’s festival funded budget.  If I’m wrong, then it’s been left of the list I have received from Wag for the last four years. So as this funding has always come from another budget, which budget was it from? My next question is why has this funding been withdrawn and who made that decision?

I’m not sure whether you would label this event as a Food Festival or a Farmer’s Market, but the label is irrelevant. What is relevant and is very important, is that thisevent was actually a celebration of Welsh food at its best and surely this is what Wag (Food) should be promoting.  This year Wag’s criteria for festivals they are supporting is that they ‘will have food activity as the core. Therefore events such as Agricultural Shows with a food hall or events that use a food hall as an additional attraction will not normally be eligible’. What normally be eligible means must qualify as ‘Wag speak’ which makes us none the wiser…………….so can anyone clarify that statement please. I feel that maybe it means that Wag will continue to do as is pleases, regradless of the consequences.

As an example of my confusion, can I remind you that I attended Saundersfoot in March this year and counted 18 food stands, plus a cookery demo area and 9 craft stands. This festival got funding again this year, around £8k, but according to Wag they should have had 20 food producers. Did anyone attned from Wag and if so does that mean this funding is now reduced? Saundersfoot have also been awarded funding for 2012 but with a lesser amount of £5,006.35.

But back to the Smallholder event which had over 40 of our best producers on show, got no financial support at all, due to Wag’s change of criteria. Wag’s other big push as far as food festivals are concerned, is that huge prominence is made of True Taste Food and Drink Awards winners. I won’t bore you again with my views on True Taste, but check out my post on 22nd November and let me know what you think. The financial headache that no funding caused this event meant that stand prices had to be doubled, bad news for the producers in this economic climate, but there was absolutely no choice if this was to go ahead. I cannot imagine the Smallholder without Steve Shearman’s market and our offering to our visitors is bog-standard fast food vans with little if any local  food.

This event was a success despite Wag’s childish behavouir, they even had a covered area on one side where Steve had put seating so people could enjoy some great coffee, food, ice-cream and a chance to rest and chat with family and friends.

Carwyn Jones, our First Minister says, “I am delighted the Welsh Assembly Government has been able to continue to support food and drink festivals across Wales.”

Well Mr Jones and Wag, I’m not happy that I don’t understand what has happened to the Smallholder funding and why Wag (Food) don’t put their onus on Welsh food first and True Taste second – if you can improve the standard and variety of local producers you’ll of course improve the entries for the True Taste. Please explain to me why this event had to run without financial support from Wag bearing in mind RWAS say 26,026 attended over the two days. This is yet another instance where Wag need to wake-up and understand what is actually happening in Wales with our food producers.

 
 

When Is A Food Hall Not A Food Hall?

23 May

When there’s no food in it!

But welcome to the Royal Welsh Smallholder & Garden Festival, which ran from 21 – 22 May as the new Food Hall housed the Green Horizons (Eco) Exhibition. Sadly some traders who understood they’d paid to be part of that event, were instead put into the Members Restaurant, where there was a distinct lack of customer throughput and for many traders a waste of two days trading.    

As reported here on 21st July 2010 at the Royal Welsh, amid great pomp and trumpet fanfare, Rural Minister Elin Jones officially opened the new Food Hall on the showground announcing a new deal between  the Welsh Assembly Government, WAG ,and the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society, RWAS, to manage the £1.6m food hall. I am told that WAG will financially support the Food Hall with £300,000 over the next three years, which means RWAS will be paid £100k per year for WAG to run two food events, the Royal Welsh and the Winter Fair.  So that’s why no food in there this time but to the visitors it looks totally stupid to have this new, expensvie Food Hall – but without food in it.  Although that’s the latest figure I’ve heard, I’m sure that this isn’t the only money Wag is putting into the RWAS.

 
 

West Wales Food Festival

16 May

National Botanical Gardens, NBG, was the venue and as I opted out last year, I made a point of visiting yesterday. My first stop was for a welcome cup of coffee at the café by the entrance. Not a good start as it took 20 minutes to get served and the lady in charge of the coffee machine couldn’t supply a mocha coffee as it wasn’t on her list. The fact that she was so slow producing coffees didn’t help either. She was obviously feeling under pressure, but that was no excuse for her sharpness with customers – many of them elderly – it’s hardly a great welcome to the NBG. But what really upset me, was seeing one of those elderly lady’s purchase a piece of pottery for £10.00, she paid at the counter and neither of the two assistants could be bothered to offer her a bag, let alone wrap her purchase in tissue paper. Thankfully someone stepped in before I had to and she was then offered a bag. Let’s just leave that scenario with further training needed and memo to all staff, that without customers you will not have a job unless ‘someone’ finds further funding to keep you going!!! 

I’d picked up a programme in the entrance hall and listened to people muttering about having to pay £8.50 each to visit the food fair. I too couldn’t believe it, as last year I was told it entrance was free. Why was this changed and why weren’t the traders told of this before NBG took their money? £17.00 for a couple to come in to a food festival is not on! I don’t accept that people can also view the gardens; the fact is if they just wish to attend and support the food festival then entrance should be free. My suggestion is that NBG make entrance free and use the opportunity to recruit members or they let traders attend for free. I talked to a few traders who had no idea people were being charged and horrified when told how much. They were understandably upset about the poor attendance and blamed NBG for a lack of marketing & advertising and unfairness in not telling them that visitors this year were being charged – it’s quite simply not fair.

I talked to a trader who was outside the main food marquee and doing hot food, he’d asked how many outside caterers there were going to be and was told the same as last year. Fair enough if that was true but it wasn’t and the entrance fee also hit sales. Traders understand in this climate that sales will be down but looking at 10-15% but this company was down 70% on last year and NBG must take on board a lot of that responsibility. The hot food people also felt out of things as they were sited at the back and there were just not enough tables and chairs for the public to use and eat their produce or just have a coffee from Preseli coffee – which was superb, entrance café please take notes!!! You must also bear in mind that as well as the entrance café, there’s also NBG food in the Glass House as well as the NBG’s restaurant – the restaurant had a full page advert in the free programme, but the food traders only warranted a half page note in the programme as did the craft people. There wasn’t a list of which food producers were attending either so I think that appears to show how much value NBG seem to put on the food producers, which is really not a lot. From an outsider’s point of view the focus seemed to be on the activity/cookery demo programme which took up three pages of the programme and was certainly very busy with lots for the children too.

My timing was good enough to catch Steve Terry in action and I’ve not seen him working since I was invited to judge on Great British Menu TV programme and had to visit his restaurant The Hardwicke, Abergavenny. Well I do get some tough jobs, dear reader, but they have to be done!!! Steve continues to be one of Wales’ most talented chefs. He had a great way with the audience and really got them involved. My only gripe would be that I’d have loved to see him and all chefs at demos – use the food from the producers that are attending. In fairness Steve did mention quite a few local companies he used and why he used them – but there are still lots more to do on this side. Steve was followed by chef Gareth Johns another star in the Welsh Culinary Crown. I’d love to have seen in the programme a brief CV on the chefs as well.

The craft people who were positioned in the Glass House were playing the tradestanders game of ‘spot-the-punter’. There was hardly anyone there when I went around, but having said that, and I know it’s not easy to do, it does help if traders try not to give the impression they are bored and at least acknowledged the visitors that were there, and a smile and hello is always a good start.

We’d emailed through to NBG on Thursday asking for a list of food producers attending but sad to say our email was deleted and of course we didn’t get our list – so that’s not a helpful attitude, seems to sum up a lot of what is happening at NBG.

End Of Event Report:

Must try harder & must do better. Communicate with your tradestanders and tell them the truth.

 
 

Edwina Hart Is Lady In Charge For Food

16 May

Edwina Hart is now the Minister in charge of business; including food with deputy Minister for agriculture is Alun Davies. 

Is this good or bad for our food industry?

Edwina Hart, has a background of banking and the trade union movement. She has proved herself a formidable operator in Cardiff, but has always worked with institutional type areas of government, justice and latterly health. As Health Minister, she certainly got things done but was anti any involvement from the private sector. Whether this was from an ideological point of view, or from, as she saw it, a best way forward, we don’t know.

What is certain is that Ms Hart appears not to have much experience of entrepreneurship and business, especially at the small and micro level, which applies to many of our food producers. But is this going to worry them? One can only hope that Ms Hart uses her ears and mouth in those proportions, and listens to all parts of the Welsh business sectors. Then act with a view to the bigger picture and not micro-managing, which seemed to happen occasionally in the health service.

Another hope is that as a new broom, Ms Hart will look at the civil servants in her department and get them working for both the Welsh taxpayer and Welsh business people, instead as seems to happen all too often at present, themselves.    

We can only hope too that Carwyn Jones’ judgment is right and that Ms Hart, who does have a passion for Wales, also has the determination and the ability to gets things done, together with an undeniable desire for Wales to be a success on the world stage. 

 A final plea to Ms Hart, hoping of course that she has time to read welshfood bites, is that she creates a level playing field for business with less red tape and far more common sense, enabling us to get on with what we are good at, building business and growth instead of filling in needless government forms.

 
 

Festival Listing Received From Welsh Assembly Government

13 May

After working long and hard to get a listing of food festivals that Welsh Assembly Government, WAG are supporting this year, I’m pleased to tell you – we have now been sent it. To help all those that have been asking us for this news, you’ll find the full press release at the end of this post. For those of you supporting us as members of ‘Best Of Welsh & Borders,’ plus ‘Eating Out’ and ‘Stay Awhile’ you’ll have been emailed it this morning. 

WAG’s press release states that they are supporting 31 food festivals this year, with funding of £350,000. Last year they supported 57 festivals with a £529,125.70 budget. Although we are not suprised with a cut in  funding, this is huge reduction which has had a dramatic effect on the number of festivals going ahead in 2011/12. Visitor numbers have not been quoted for last year despite a food festival survey being undertaken.  Instead it states simply thousands, but with supported festivals down nearly 50% it’s not good new for producers who rely so heavily on these festivals as their main route to market. I find this situation worrying but how do you all feel? Please add your comments as I do enjoy your feedback, and don’t worry, you don’t have to give your real name or company, it’s private and therefore easy to be honest without worrying about any repercussions.

Interesting that after all this fuss, that WAG have sent through this year the amounts each festival is getting because if you remember last year I was told this inforamtion was not in the public domain. What rubbish. I have today got my offical response through Freedom Of Information Act – why I have had to go through all this effort to get it appears to be one of WAG Food’s games, and they have now said that this information in now IN the public domain. So yes we have made progress and I hope WAG are pleased with themselves for wasting not just my time but theirs too.  

I have been told by WAG that they wish food festivals to eventually be self-supporting, but how can this be true when many festivals are getting the same, or more funding than they have had over the last 3 years. It’s annoying especially when some of these festivals do have the means to attract decent outside sponsorship.  Does anyone understand how this festival funding sytem works?

WAG Press Release:

Welsh Food & Drink Festivals Funding List 

More than 30 food and drink festivals the length and breadth of Wales are between them to receive over £350,000 in support from the Welsh Assembly Government. The 31 festivals – large and small – feature a wide range of products and are an important showcase for producers and Welsh produce among who are many Wales the True Taste Food and Drink Awards winners.

Said Carwyn Jones, First Minister of Wales, “I am delighted the Welsh Assembly Government has been able to continue to support food and drink festivals across Wales. During 2011/12 the festivals will collectively receive £368,521.36 in assistance, signifying their importance to the economy and Wales’ reputation as a producer of high quality and diverse food and drink. They attract thousands of visitors each year, and I look forward to being among them.”

Food festivals play an important role in the local economy attracting visitors and providing a showcase for producers. Indeed, it is estimated that the overall economic impact of Welsh food festivals on their host communities is annually as much as £20.3m. There is a positive knock-on effect on employment in rural areas too with around 1,125 jobs linked to food festivals. Food festivals in Wales have an important effect on developing food culture in Wales for both visitors and local people, raising awareness of the wide variety of produce available throughout the country.

Research undertaken by the Welsh Assembly Government over the last two years into the benefits of food festivals has shown a diverse range of impacts achieved not only economically, but also educating consumers about where their food comes from and the benefits of buying direct from the producer.

Food Festivals supported by the Welsh Assembly Government

2011

Gorseinon Food Festival (16 April) Gorseinon, Swansea:  £7,849.90  

Welsh Perry & Cider Festival (27 – 30 May) Clytha Arms near Abergavenny: £1,492.70      

Llŷn Land & Seafood Festival (28 – 29 May) Pwllheli Marina: £9,000.00   

Gŵyl Fwyd Castell Newydd Emlyn (18 June) Newcastle Emlyn: £5,089.24    

Hay-On-Wye Food Festival (25 June) Hay-On-Wye: £3,600.00   

Llandysul Food Festival (25 June) Llandysul: £9,074.18   

Carmarthen Journal Buy Local Food & Drink Show (June/Jul) Carmarthen Town Centre: £8,015.50   

Cardiff International Food & Drink Festival (8 – 10 July) Cardiff: £37,500.00   

Cardigan Bay Seafood Festival (10 July) Aberaeron Harbour: £9,500.00 

Lampeter Food Festival (23 July) University of Wales, Lampeter:  £9,516.25    

The Really Wild Food & Countryside Festival (29 – 30 July) Whitesands Rd, St Davids:  £9,800.00      

Big Welsh Bite (5 – 7 August) Pontypridd: £16,012.45     

Cardigan River and Food Festival (6 August) Cardigan: £9,995.00   

Haverfordwest Beer, Cider, Perry and Local Produce Festival (27 – 28 August) Haverfordwest Castle: £4,648.64    

Brecon Beacons Summer Fayre (27 – 29 August) National Park, Brecon:  £4,480.00      

Welsh Food Festival 2011 (3 – 4 September) Glansevern Hall, Welshpool: £7,500.00    

Gŵyl Fwyd Blas Tywi (10 – 11 September) Llandeilo: £5,612.69     

Aberystwyth Food and Drink Festival (17 September) Baker St, Aberystwyth:  £8,239.76      

Abergavenny Food Festival (17 – 18 September) Abergavenny: £52,200.00   

The Mold Food and Drink Festival (24 – 25 September) Mold: £16,100.00

Narberth Food Festival (23 – 25 Sept) Town Moor, Narberth: £9,999.00   

The Great British Cheese Festival (23 – 25 Sept) Cardiff Castle:£15,000.00   

Feastival (Bridgend) (30 Sept – 1 Oct) Bridgend: £9,950.00     

Brecon Beacons Food Festival (1 October) Market Hall, Brecon: £6,300.00   

Neath Food and Drink Festival (7 – 8 October) Neath: £9,999.00  

Anglesey Oyster and Welsh Produce Festival (8 – 9 October) Trearddur Bay, Anglesey: £2,875.00      

Gwledd Conwy Feast (20-23 October) Conwy: £41,000.00   

Newport Food Festival (28 – 30 October) Newport Town Centre: £15,171.70    

Cowbridge Food and Drink Festival (29 – 30 October) Cowbridge: £9,990.00 

2012

Get Welsh in Swansea Food and Drink Show (25 Feb or 3 March) Swansea: £8,004.00      

Saundersfoot St David’s Day Festival (3 – 4 March) Saundersfoot: £5,006.35

 
 

Food Festival Funding News

09 May

News began trickling in from some festival organisers on Friday that they’d received official written notification of their funding from the Welsh Assembly Government, WAG Food.

We’d calls and emails in with relief that at last they could move forward, but some were still angry that they have been left waiting so long for this notification of their funding and the additional pressure it has put on their teams. When most food festivals are run by volunteers this is simply unfair and unnecessary and I have nothing but sympathy for them but at least I know that everyone here at Welsh Country magazine has done everything possible to obtain this information and an explanation as to why it has taken so long.    

Thanks for those that have kept us in-the-loop with this latest festival news.

 
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Food Festival Request Via Freedom Of Information Act

06 May

I think in the my dim and distant past, that I won a Girl Guide badge for endurance, so  do you think the Welsh Assembly Government Food, (WAG),  might like to consider awarding me something similar whilst I continue to ask for a list of food festivals they are supporting this year? For those of you that aren’t up-to-date, the WAG Food press office promised to send me their list at end of March – I’m still waiting – although not patiently. The WAG Food press office have now taken the decision not to answer any of my questions – in case I blog them! I’m not sure how many times I need to explain to them that I’m only resorting to blogging because they are not giving me the information I ask for as a journalist.  I’m now waiting for an offical response from WAG Food before I decide what to do next.

But back to the food festival listing request. With another failure with WAG press office, my next option was the Freedom Of Information Act and I submitted two food festival questions to them on 14th April. On the 4th May, I got an acknowledgement from WAG Food saying they had received my request on 15th April and that I could expect a reply by 17th May…………………………..

Well I shall look forward to that, but can WAG really believe they are serving the public with this sort of sloppy, laid-back service? I do not believe for an instant that this information isn’t available, as a food festival organiser has told me they should get to hear today, 6th May, on how much funding they will receive. So if that information is correct,  and it is because this festival organiser has just rung and told me how much they are getting. So why do I have to wait until the 17th May? Are WAG Food, like their press office too busy to respond to me any quicker than this, or is it that Welsh Country doesn’t matter?  

  

 

 
 

Are There Any Checks On How Our Money Is Spent?

04 May

Today, whilst I was searching for some website statistics on Alexa, I did a quick check on Golwg360 web figures which was interesting  – no that’s not true – horrifying is a more apt description. Golwg360, a site that has money pumped into it from the Welsh Assembly and the Welsh Books Council over the last 2 years, was only ranked at 12,624,621 – yes over twelve million. Recently this site has had more funding for a food feature, again also being funded by by the Welsh Assembly Government via the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe investing in Rural Areas the Rural Development Plan.

If it were easy to find out exactly how much funding has been poured into Golwg360  over the years, I would do it, but even with limited research, it is in excess of £660,000 over 3 years. The objective to have a Welsh language website is laudable, but  apart from just being there, what is it supposed to achieve? What are its aims? But just as importantly, who is checking up how it is progressing – or is this another instance of money ebing thrown at another project and then – just waste it as you wish?’   

We are in difficult financial times, no-one will disagree with that, so it has never been more important that there should not be a total disregard for taxpayer’s money – it’s neither right nor fair!  Does this website strike you as good value for money or do you feel because it’s Welsh maybe that’s ok? I’d love to know how you feel on this issue.   

For interest, welshfoodbites and Welsh Country websites are not funded and are ranked at 301,394 and 226448 respectively  – source again Alexa.

 
 

WAG Supported Food Festivals

03 May

We are now into May, but still without a list from WAG. Welds Assembly Government, of festivals they are supporting this year. I’m getting thoroughly fed-up of telling people, whether they are producers, foodies or our readers that we still have no news and the reason why we haven’t this information. This scenario is out of our control. If WAG has any other sensible reason, apart from the excuse of the election, why they have not published this list, they are keeping it to themselves. I don’t think anyone would disagree that this situation is, to say the least, unhelpful.

Maybe by 6th May WAG will send me this list through…………………………………

The July/ August issue of Welsh Country magazine is already planned, so it’s more likely that we’ll run the WAG food festival list on our welshcountry website, www.welshcountry.co.uk or on www.welshfoodbites.