West Wales Food Festival

14 May

This event was held over the weekend at the National Botanical Gardens and as this is not one of my favourite venues, I still went and hoped some lessons had been learnt from last year. As Ian and I left the entrance, the shuttle train had just arrived and Ian heard the driver shout to a couple that they were waiting in the wrong place, and let me tell you that the lady was in a wheelchair and an elderly gentleman was with her. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I shouldhave walked back and told the driver just what I thought of his attitude and hope that he never has the misfortune to be in charge of a wheelchair, let alone have to be restricted to one!!! As far as I’m aware it’s not clear at all where visitors should wait for a ride, but surely the point here is that this couple were just that – visitors!!!

I carried on with my walk to the summit, well at least to the festival and thought how lucky the event had been with the weather, which although windy, was at least dry. There was no improvement in the layout of tradestands, the main marquee had the
same barrier down the middle, which I didn’t feel helped to create any atmosphere or buzz. The outside, again in my view, was even worse. There was what was supposed to be a hot food area for visitors, which consisted of just 4 separate pagodas. Not too impressive and just one wooden table and bench which apparently one of the traders moved there himself. Oh sorry, I nearly forgot that the NBG had made the most of this opportunity to erect their own BBQ unit and of course their cafes were open too. The only part I thought really worked was a run of market-style stands that were selling a range of coffee, hot food, welsh cakes, brownies, cheese etc. I’d have loved to see the space planned out professionally and all traders with market-style stands, lots of tables and chairs to encourage visitors to buy and eat from the traders. Is that not one of the objectives of a food festival? There was children’s entertainment and there were wandering musicians too, but perhaps because the stands were so spread out, the place didn’t buzz at all.

I was pleased to see so many of our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers there, but I’d have been a lot happier if they’d had even one day out of two with decent trading.

My main complaint about this event is that every visitor attending the food festival had to pay £8.50 to go in, yes £8.50, a figure I just cannot believe. Are adults going to be happy to spend £17.00 to watch the food demonstrations, well ok , of course some were, but hardly enough of them to then go around the food stands and spend what money they had left with the traders. One producer said he’d asked one of the committee why people had to pay to come into a food festival, bearing in mind this entrance charge is on a par with Abergavenny Food Festival and he was told it was because this festival is not funded by Wag. Why NBG couldn’t have offered this as a free weekend entry and used it for their own marketing is another puzzle for me and the traders to ponder over.

Over the years I have suggested to many traders before they pay their hard-earned money up front, just ask the organisers what promotion they are doing for their event. Sooner or later this message will hit home to them and then they can make a
more sensible decision as to whether to to attend or not. I not sure what marketing this event did, I know I didn’t get a press releases about it and the first festival sign I saw was when I got there!

But what was even more annoying was that going onto their website it was full of ‘what a busy programme we’ve got’ but nowhere could I find a list of producers attending, now does that make sense? Am I the only person who might have wanted that information? Perhaps the event was advertised in their local paper and I was told that there was an advert in Western Mail, which would make sense, as that paper’s owners publish NBG’s own magazine so possibly helping each other out? I have no idea how many people came through the NBG gate and how it compared to a normal sunny and windy weekend, but what is relevant to me is that the producers I talked to, and I talked to a lot of them in the five hours I was there, had not had a profitable time. So what was the point for them?

I enjoyed catching up with one of my favourite chefs, Gareth Johns, owner and proprietor of The Wynnstay, Machynlleth, he’s such a great ambassador for Wales, but not impressed that he was scheduled on at the same time as a pasta making Masterclass with Angela Gray. If that makes sense to the organisers, it sure doesn’t make sense to me.

I’m confused how the food producers, which were charged around £85.00 to attend for two days, somehow didn’t seem to be the priority at this food festival.

I wish these food festivals would have the commonsense to invite a local trader to come onto the committee and help in the planning, because at least the basics such as layout and marketing could then be sorted out. Surely that’s not too difficult is it?


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  1. Disappointed Trader

    May 14, 2012 at 11:00 pm

    How would I sum it up? It was alright, could have been worse, wish it had been better. Can’t say we made much money, but I feel I have to support it being reasonably local to the event, and I think the Gardens are a important resource that needs supporting.

    I would agree it’s a shame that the Gardens can’t give free or reduced entry to this event. After all, its good advertising for them and I’m sure they’d get a lot more people thru the gates.

    They did have an advert for the show in the Evening Post to be fair, but apart from a sign in a field near the event, didn’t see any more. Plenty of bridges on the M4 they could have hung a banner on!!

    I think the layout and atmosphere were much better a few years ago when we were out in the street layout of outside stalls, but the organiser has changed since then which may explain this. Definately less stalls than there used to be though. Less crowd entertainment too. Didn’t the Quack Pack used to be there a few years ago?

    Bit frustrated really. This could be a really good event – it certainly used to be- but it justs seems to be slipping downhill slowly. I really want to support the Gardens, but we need to make a living too.

  2. Fed up Producer

    May 14, 2012 at 11:32 pm

    I made a loss. With the cost of attending at £150, the fuel, the produce etc, I certainly did not make money. This used to be a brilliant festival when it was run by a producer who understood what was needed, good layout, music, entertainment for all ages, good advertising etc. There was no entry fee either, and people took advantage of that to see the gardens too – all good for the gardens and the traders. There is a PA system, so why not use it to have background music? There seemed to be very little thought having gone into this years festival, and certainly no one came to see how the producers were feeling.
    I took a photo of the festival at 11.35 on Saturday which showed 3 people looking at stalls, and groups of stallholders chatting to each other – not what we all hoped! It will be interesting to see the numbers of visitors through the gate, and how this differs from an average weekend. Not a festival I will be supporting in the future.

  3. J

    May 16, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    I admire you doing these reports because to do so you have to take the time and trouble not to go to them, but then you both wander around and talk to us if we are not busy serving. That’s why what you guys say should be listened to.
    The sadness is, those in control, and in this case it’s NBG, don’t listen to you and certainly fail to learn year after year. You have found so many faults at NBG over the last few years and NBG have learned nothing. Since Paul stopped organising NBG it has gone down hill rapidly.
    I’m dreading what will happen to wag festivals this year.
    Believe you are still waiting for their official list, from 19th March, those guys are a waste of space.