I’m not sure whether to thank or curse the only Best Of Welsh & Borders producer who told me early last week that this event was taking place! But as I’d been told I went onto the National Botanical Gardens, NBG, website and although I could find a few details about the event itself, I couldn’t find a list of which producers had agreed to attend – so once again, I was not impressed.
Regular readers will know that being in the media, I do like to know what is going on and press releases are generally the simplest and quickest way to communicate to the press. But for reasons best known to them, as far as their food events are concerned, NBG prefer to keep me in the dark. Needless to say to my regular readers, this makes me furious and not just on my account, but for the fact that food producers are paying to be there for the whole weekend, whilst NBG can’t be bothered to send out even a single press release. It simply isn’t fair. There will come a day, hopefully not too far ahead, when all producers will, before handing over their hard-earned cash, ask what promotion and marketing is being done for each event. Of course there is no guarantee that they will be told the truth, but at least if they ask the question we might gently persuade organisers to think and plan ahead.
But there was some good news about this event which was that entry was free both to the gardens and to the food event, but that really only emphasises the fact that NBG should have been shouting long and hard about this event.
I arrived on the Sunday and the weather was wet and wild and I was directed to the overfill car park, despite the main car park being at least half empty. When I queried one of the attendants I was told that the main car park was for disabled only, well fair enough but why not have a large sign saying disabled only instead of just cones blocking it off and an attendant way the majority of cars to the overfill area? I must also say that the ground on the over flow park was in need of some care and attention. On leaving the event and I checked some cars on the main car park; I couldn’t see that many blue badges but quite a lot of NBG member’s badges!!!! Disappointed not to see large signs at entrance about the food event and wonder how people knew that it was actually going on and where it was.
I have no idea who laid out the stands this year, as I was told that David Hardy was no longer doing it, but not sure if this was accurate or not. There were not as many stands here as last year but when I spoke to a lot of the traders, many had really had a lot of hassle to get a stand in the first place. One trader sent 10 emails before getting a stand, whilst another was told there were no stands left by one person and then was accepted by another NBG staff member. A regular tradestand holder just visited the event because they’d been told again no space available, although they’d been supporting them in the past, so how fair was that? So those stories were not good to hear and actually totally unnecessary, as one trader described it, “left and right hands just aren’t related to each other here at the NBG.” And I couldn’t have summed it up better myself!
It was rather quiet in the dome when I got there about 11.30 and rather chilly, quite a few traders didn’t even take their coats off, but the good news and the bouquet for NBG was that Saturday was apparently very busy and quite a few traders had sold out. So for January, for an event a lot of traders were not holding out high hopes for and so had no doubt not taken huge stocks with them, Saturday did work, so well done. I was told that the localCarmarthenpaper and the local radio had promoted the event, which is great if your main market is just Carmarthenshire, but on Saturday I spoke to some enthusiastic local foodies from Pembrokeshire, but they of course knew nothing about this event. If they had they’d have gone, because they love the chance to buy local food.
Saturday also brought to light the fact that many people had come out on a beautiful day weather-wise, and used the food event as a way of taking samples for themselves and their family. But not content with sampling once, some then decided that they’d take another trip around the stands and repeat the sampling process. This is a difficult situation and a real no- winner, producers are happy for would-be buyers to taste before they buy, ask questions etc., but just taking advantage of producers when you have no intention of buying is very unfair. Like the saying – there’s no free lunch, there are no free samples either! How we educate the Welsh public to understand that samples are not free is another quandary……
I also heard rumours that NBG thought that the clientele or visitors to the event, was ‘not quite their market ‘and so intend to charge and entry fee next year. This poses two questions with all the public money that has gone into the NBG, surely any tax payer is their market. Charging though may ease the situation of hoards scavenging for samples so can I suggest a compromise. Why not charge £5.00 per car, and then give 5 x £1.00 vouchers that can be redeemed at any of the food stands? The traders can then redeem their vouchers at the end of the day. This shouldn’t discourage those wanting to visit the Food event and purchase, but may put a small hurdle in front of those looking for a cheap day out with free lunch for all the family.
As last year, another annoyance was that NBG opened their café in the dome. I read a notice by the café’ saying that it wasn’t always open during winter season, but for this two days NBG must decided that they couldn’t lose this opportunity to make some money, so the café opened for the weekend. Well bully for you guys, I hope you made plenty. You obviously had no thought for the traders whose money you’d already taken, plus more for electric no doubt. Some of these traders were selling a wonderful selection of hot food, pasties, pies etc. not to mention Welsh Brew tea that had a stand there, as did Preseli coffee, whose coffee in my view cannot be bettered. I’ll never find that situation fair when surely the objective should be to get people buying food from the traders, eating it there, before going back for more to take home with them. But have I got that wrong? Is the objective that everyone should be there to support NBG?
Another worrying factor as grabbed a seat to drink my Preseli coffee in comfort, was watching two unrelated families, also grab a table and chairs and then both promptly unpacked their picnics and eat them. I resisted the temptation to ask both families what they were doing here, but maybe they had just come to the visit the gardens on a wet windy Sunday with snow forecast with no idea the food event was taking place. Wonder if they came from Pembrokeshire or like me from Ceredigion…………………..
I’d love to get your feedback if you were there this weekend.