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Archive for November, 2011

Winter Fair Feedback

30 Nov

I talked to a lot of producers on Monday, many of them our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers and they’re are still reasonably happy with the layout in the Food Hall. I really couldn’t be bothered counting the stands, but guess there were around 40ish there this year, in a specifically designed Food Hall to hold 60 stands.

I’m still have a concern about visitors to the Winter Fair and their options for hot food. There were just a couple of stands doing hot food in the Food Hall and I’m guessing this might be due to more European rulings, which Wales must  follow, that says hot food is ‘not allowed ‘in the Food Hall. Or could it be that RWAS make so much more money from the food concessions that they object to producers selling hot food in the Food Hall? Which of course directed people to the many mobile food vans where I saw many people queuing for hot food alongside the massive burger vans – which I’m sure, were not always serving Welsh produce. The queue around lunch-time in the Glamorgan Hall for food was enormous and there was no hope of you finding a seat either! It made life difficult for those in wheelchairs, with children or had elderly folks with them. As to whether they were serving Welsh food, or not I’ll reserve judgement……….

I have my usual issues with the Royal Welsh as a venue and it starts even before you park up. There’s hardly any ‘yellow jackets’ and those that are wandering around, don’t appear to be doing too much. Then the guys on the gate cannot even be bothered with a good morning, let alone welcome to the Royal Welsh Winter Fair.

The tradestand prices are another mystery, with one trader saying a corner stand cost £606.00 for just two days trading. That’s a lot of money to find and that’s just the start of it. This trader only got a few car passes and they’d staff to get in and out over the trading days. Why are these basic issues such a constant problem for our producers?

My other whinge is that some producers don’t even have business cards, which I always find hard to believe. But on a good note, a lot of the traders had made a huge effort to make their stands look festive, with lots of special offers to tempt the punters with. I’m not sure why WG can’t organise a Best Stand competition to encourage more to get into the festive spirit.  

At the close of Monday, feedback was fairly good, not brilliant by any means for many of them, but some were reasonably happy in such a difficult trading year. 

There was also much talk about the festival organisers meeting last week, but sadly not much of it good. Were some producers invited just to tick another WG/European box? Or were they invited because they could have some input to what is a huge part of many of their businesses. Some of the producers I spoke to didn’t feel that it would be useful for them so if they were invited didn’t bother going. But I wonder why the organisers, when they were getting such a poor response from producer invites, didn’t do a ring around as a reminder. But there again, as producer input didn’t appear to be wanted, then this would have been another waste of time, which actually would not be an issue if the organisers were being paid by the WG……………………..

 
 

Producer Feedback On Cardiff Bay Waterfront Christmas Market

22 Nov

Rumours are flying fast today as I hear of another Christmas Fair that was unable to emulate the success of  Landeilo Christmas Festival of Senses would made massive efforts on the same weekend. Producers have  been giving me an update on the Cardiff event, which took place from Thursday 17th – Sunday 20th

Thursday and Friday ran from midday until 8.00pm, with Saturday running for 10.00 – until 9.00pm and Sunday 10.00 – 6.00pm, long hours but traders don’t mind that if they are taking plenty of cash. Well to do take lots of cash, you need lots of customers and sadly Production 78, who I’m told were the organisers, were unable to deliver on that front. Result was that trade was absolutely appalling. With tempers fraying as traders not only wasted time, money and often fresh stock, they were looking at what appears to be broken promises of live music, street theatre, craft workshops and Father Christmas, instead they got a school choir and canned music with the same cd being played continuously. They were also told that there would be marketing and advertising behind this event. But as a journalists and publisher- with a huge interest in food – I only knew about this event because one of our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers told me about it. Not a single press release did I receive – so not much marketing there guys! Now if this wasn’t bad enough, I am told that traders had to pay £1,000 for their stands which I’m think it is on a par with the high prices charged by The Royal Welsh, but in fairness to the RWAS they can always get the punters in.

What continues to annoy and puzzle me about organisers is that they appear to pluck a tradestand price out of the air and haven’t the slightest thought as to what profit margins our food producers can actually work on.             

Wag are not at fault on this one, they are blameless as they didn’t put any of our hard-earned money into this event. But not blaming Wag doesn’t make me feel any better, another poor event is not the news I wish to hear. In some ways I’m sorry I didn’t attend Cardiff to see for myself waht actually went on. But I’m sure I’ll get further feedback as the week goes on as I know quite a few of our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers were in attendance .

 
 

Landeilo Christmas Festival of Senses Versus Gwyl Fwyd Blas Tywi

21 Nov

Well there’s no contest on who was the winner on this one. The Llandeilo Christmas Festival, which took place from 18th – 20th November was a huge success. I called there on Sunday morning and I couldn’t believe, not only how busy it was, but how massively busy it had been over the weekend. 

This is the second year this festival has run and last year Wag funded them. However this year funding was not given to them, but instead Wag funded Gwyl Fwyd Blas Tywi which, let’s just say was a flop with some food traders not attending on the Sunday, due to such poor trade. Wag decided against funding Festival Of Senses, because in their view had too much craft – shame Wag did not apply their criteria that food must be the main activity, against Llandysul which yet again Wag decided to fund. It’s all well and good Wag issuing their criteria, but it seriously falls down when they don’t stick to it!!!!

Last year, with the Wag funding they could and did run a food marquee, which catered for about 25 stands, this year the food traders had to go into the Church Hall on the main street, which could only take 10 stands but many of our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers too! So let’s help Wag and do the maths, a loss of 15 stands and a loss of revenue for those traders who I’m sure had a good event there last year, but this year there was simply not space for.

For me to go around any food event and get smiles and good news from ALL traders is about as rare as hen’s teeth, but that is just what happened on Sunday. Happy traders, having taken good money with some of them running out of some items.

As Wag had withdrawn their funding, I’m sure no-one from Wag took the trouble to attend – they’d have better things to do I’m sure, but please listen to someone who did attend. Talk to the producers if you cannot bear to believe me and get their feedback – this event worked and could have worked even better with some funding. I’m not sure how much we are talking about here moneywise, but I had heard they only needed around £5-6k.   

My congratulations go to Tracey Kindred from Heavenly Chocolates and the brilliant team she has put together to run this event. How wonderful for the town and all the businesses that were lucky enough to get stands. You put on a super show and visitor feedback proves that.

 

Wag you backed the wrong Llandeilo horse on this one and I just wish you’d listen to people rather than sticking haphazardly to this year’s criteria.

 
 

Fish Distribution In Wales

17 Nov

Get a few food producers together and I guarantee that before long the problem of food distribution will raise its ugly head. This situation has been an ongoing problem for years and it is not going away.

I did want to share this with you though and that’s the distribution, or rather lack of it, on fish. How do you get fish from Anglesey to Cardiff and south Wales? Sorry, but no prizes if any of you got the correct answer – via Grimsby. Yes Grimsby!

Continuing the fish tale, were you aware that the cost per fish being delivered into London is 20p, but delivering into south Wales costs £1.00 per fish. That’s one heck of a difference isn’t? 

Bearing in mind our Welsh coastline is huge, why is Wales allowing our fishing fleet to disappear? Doesn’t anyone in government care? I’m often asked by restaurants, pubs and cafes why they  struggle to get fresh Welsh fish and it’s obvious distribution is the major problem, along with silly European laws which continues to strangle our fishing industry.

This is yet another instance of Wales do very little whilst our fishermen flounder……………..

 
 

Food Festival Consultation Workshop

14 Nov

After visiting over 20, mostly funded food festivals this year, and then taken the time and trouble to blog them, I must confess to be feeling very disenchanted about the food festival scene inWales.

Wherever Ian and I go, whenever we are talking to the food industry, we are constantly being asked about festivals and their future – as if anyone in power would tell me! But this is generally from producers who are also rather disillusioned about what Wag might have planned for 2012.  For many years Ian and I have been asking and advising Wag to talk to producers and more importantly to listen to what they have to say, sadlly I thought this had fallen on deaf ears.  

But dear readers, it looks like we are making some progress after all – hurrah, hurrah!!! I’m grateful for the organisers who have told me about a Food Festivals Consultation Workshop that is being held on 16th November. Of course it’s Wag’s agenda, and of course Wag haven’t told us about it, and of course Ian and I aren’t invited, BUT the important issue is that it’s happening.  

I have to accept that Wag are hardly likely to admit that Welsh Country magazine and welshfoodbites can offer any help to the food industry. Maybe it’s just too difficult for them to accept that we can be of use to them and after working so hard for Welsh food over the last seven years, that’s disappointing, to say the least, but we do apprecaite it takes strong, confident people to say ‘we got it wrong.’ Our food producers however know what’s happening and our concern is for them. It’s our objective to build a better Welsh food industry, but why Wag can’t see that and work with us, is down to them. That we have to plough through the Welsh politics and Welsh Civil Service twaddle to make progress, is par for the course and will no doubt continue.

Anyway this Workshop is the good news and something that has been badly needed and is years overdue. Now we must hope that the organisers will give full and frank feedback, along with their comments, without worrying that if they ‘say the wrong thing, i.e. something Wag doesn’t wish to hear, their future funding could be in jeopardy. This is one of Wag’s main problems. I’d like to know if some of our professional food festival producers have been invited, because what is so important is that this industry is their livelihood and they too have a right to be consulted. I am well aware that some comments come back that producers shouldn’t rely on festivals, but I don’t agree with that, not every producer can plan or wants to go the supermarket way.         

What has been interesting is the response to welshfoodbites, where of course, food festivals have been a very hot topic. I have been forthright in my views of what I have seen at the food festivals I have attended. Yes ok these are my thoughts, but as a passionate Welsh foodie why am I not coming away from these events delighted to have made the effort to attend them? Well quite frankly, far too many have still got the basics wrong. I’ll not bore regular readers, yet again, by spouting my ‘could-do-better’ lists. Suffice it to say if organisers cannot get the town behind them and get basic signage out early, they shouldn’t be running and certainly not be funded.   

I didn’t attend many festivals in the north this year, which is purely down to lack of time. But of those I did attend, the ones that stood out for me that were funded were: Cowbridge and Really Wild and for non-funded ones: Big Cheese and St Fagans. But four out of twenty is not a good ratio at all from a foodie.

I have been vocal in the amount of money that Abergavenny,Cardiff and Conwy take from the festival budget and I know that Wag have this year elevated the ‘Big Three’ to international status, citing their value for tourism. But if tourism is so vital in relation to food, how much does Visit Wales put into the food festival budget? This also links into another question being asked, who are food festivals for: producers/tourism/economic development/other? But surely if food festivals are not there for food producers, why did Wag work to a criteria that this year food festivals had to have food as the core activity? Hitting some festivals hard including The Smallholder. If food producers aren’t that important to food festivals then why do organisers generally want their stands fees in so early, or maybe, being really silly, why do food producers have to pay to go to festivals at all? Another question is self-funding, which Wag have told me for years food festivals should aim to be, yet appears to contradict that statement when it raises the big three to international status and maintains their funding levels. Aren’t these three in particular capable of getting sponsorship? Because it they can’t there’s is no hope for some of the smaller ones. Let’s also be sensible here too, one size does not fit all and that applies to food festivals too – the needs for a small festival from Wag will surely be different say to Cardiff wont it?  

For once I can congratulate Wag for listening and putting on this event. I do query who will actually be attending, but at least they are making a start. Hopefully it will prove a successful meeting and maybe pave the way forward for a more profitable stable future for food producers. I’m sure I will get feedback after the meeting, maybe not of course from Wag, but that is realistically not expected.

 
 

True Taste Food & Drinks Awards Magazine

07 Nov

I’ve only had time to flick quickly through this issue, but it’s a relief to see the back of last year’s issue with Pembrokeshire Tea on the front cover when this company had already ceased trading before the magazine came out. 

I found the contents page unclear and wonder why the photos that have been used have not been captioned, or at least given a page number that relates to the appropriate feature – just a practial thought. I’m not sure when this issue is prepared and gets printed. It certainly wasn’t available at the True Taste Awards evening in Llandudno and was first seen at the Cowbridge Food Festival 29-30th October. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought it was late June or early July that the shortlist for True Taste was announced. So I think it would have been logical to showcase those short listed producers in the many features that have been compiled. I’d got up to page 23 and the World Class Produce article and I was puzzled reading the section under the Special Dietary Needs. Now I admit to some bias here, but I expected Homemade Country Preserves, who are with us as Best of Welsh & Borders producers, (BOW) to have been highlighted here. This company were short listed under Special Dietary Options for their No Added Sugar Raspberry Preserve which took gold and their No Added Sugar Damson Preserve which took silver, bronze went to another BOW, Coco Bean with their Classic Gluten Free Brownie. Instead there was a great deal of coverage given to the Village Bakery Nutrition, a family bakery in North Wales. Now this bakery has done exceptionally well business-wise, including exports, they are also another BOW company, so of course I’m pleased that they have been given some extra coverage. But I don’t know why Village Bakery weren’t short listed, maybe they didn’t even enter this section this year. But my point, which I think is very valid, would it not have made sense if Homemade Country Preserves or Coco Bean were featured in this article? It would have certainly have linked whole magazine together, wouldn’t it?

I certainly understand deadlines better than most, but it seems to me that not only was there plenty of time, it was also the perfect opportunity to focus on many of the companies that had been short listed. If there wasn’t time – then simply change your schedule a little.  More joined up writing needed…………………..

Perhaps when I have gone through the whole book, I might find that this section was a one-off, but if not I’d love to see this improved for next year. I am aware that the short listed producers gave up a lot of their time to deal with the photographers and film crew when they came around, so it makes sense to me that this work was used and not just filed away somewhere.

 
 

Pembrokeshire Produce Direct

02 Nov

I was surprised to receive a press release last week from Pembrokeshire Country Council relating to Pembrokeshire Produce Direct.  My surprise was that the press release came from Pembrokeshire County Council sent it out and not Pembrokeshire Produce Direct.  I understood that PD have been grant funded but I did not realise that they were being supported by PCC as well. Maybe I have that wrong and PCC have supported them as well as being grant funded and this is just PCC  keeping them under their wing.

Do I assume that all you hard-working artisan producers based in Pembrokeshire get the same service from PCC………………………?

It’s certainly not what my Pembrokeshire  Best Of Welsh & Borders have told me.  I’m sure like me you guys would love a level playing field in our Welsh food industry.

 
 

Fishguard Autumn Weekend

01 Nov

Fishguard took the risk of running their Farmers Market on a weekly basis some time ago.  I admire them taking this gamble and congratulate them on working so hard to make this move. When I go shopping, it’s on a weekly basis and although I travel about a bit at weekends, I can never remember when the various markets run – the third Saturday in the month simply does not work for me. So knowing that it’s Saturday, I’m in Pembrokeshire, I can rely on Fishguard market being open – well it’s a huge plus. 

When Ian and I entered the Town Hall where the Farmers’ Market is held, their short harvest festival service was coming to an end but without the slightest interruption to the market as others who weren’t interested in the service, simply continued shopping.  But what this managed to achieve was set the tone of the day as a real community event.

The day before, Friday, the church had done a wine tasting and bread making in the Church, which was a huge success with over 300 people coming into the church.  

There was music too.  The Community Brass Band in the foyer of the Town Hall as well as an acoustic guitar and singer in the yard at the rear of the Hall.  This music added to the atmosphere, with a volume was not too high that it prevented people talking to each other and making their purchases.

There had been a few flyers distributed but when we went into some local shops in the town, their view was great idea and pleased to see new events taking place, but please tell them what is happening and when. That’s our view as we had no publicity as press prior to the event.

I am sure though with the positive attitude from this event that these niggles can be remedied next year.

It does prove though that a successful event can be put on with effort from a group of people without the assistance of the Welsh Government food festival funding.

 
 

Food, Tourism And Construction Panels Revealed

01 Nov

I have recently been informed by the Welsh Government on the three panels they have formed to advise them on business policy for the tourism, construction and food and farming industries.

The food and farming panel will include Heather Jenkins, director of agricultural strategy at Waitrose; Kevin Morgan, professor of European regional development at Cardiff University; Ieuan Edwards, managing director of Edwards of Conwy; Sue Evans, director of policy at the Wales Countryside Land and Business Association; Dai Davies, chair of Hybu Cig Cymru; Simon Wright, chef and writer; Melanie Leech, director general of the Food and Drink Federation; Mary James, director of the National Farmers Union Cymru; and Nick Fenwick, director of agricultural policy at the Farmers Union of Wales. It will be chaired by Haydn Edwards, the former principal of Coleg Menai.

The tourism panel will include Mike Morgan, proprietor of Llansantffraed Court Hotel in Abergavenny; Menna Heulyn, co-owner of the Harbour Master Hotel, Aberaeron; Paul Lewin, managing director, of Ffestiniog Railway; Sir Brooke Boothby, owner of Fonmon Castle and Fontygary Caravan Park; Philip Lay, retail director of SA Brain; Manon Williams, director client services at CMI; and Margaret Llewelyn OBE, former managing director of Dragon Shipping Line. It will be chaired by Dan Clayton Jones, chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The construction panel will feature David Harris, divisional managing director of Cowlin Construction; Ann-Marie Smale, director of Powell Dobson Architects; Chris Jofeh, director of Arup; Danny Fellows, director of DFA International; and Rhodri-Gwynn Jones of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (Wales). It will be chaired by David Joyce, chief operating officer of Vinci PLC.

As the food panel will be of obvious interest to our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers, we sent this info to them. Well as our busy producers catch up on their mail boxes, our phones and emails have been very busy! The unanimous message they would like me to send to the Welsh Government is – where is the voice for the food producers?

Is Ieuan Edwards of Conwy, a well-established True Taste Winner, able to talk on behalf of all producers, whatever their company size? Or is it safe to rely on Simon Wright, last year’s True Taste Champion, to be aware of the needs and wants of our producers? I’m sure you have already spotted the True Taste link and certainly the government link, but where is the representation for the dairy industry? Where is the representation for the horticultural industry? How does anybody make representation to these august bodies?  

So is this more food for thought, or is it yet more food producer frustration?