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Archive for November, 2012

Caesar’s In Aberystwyth

28 Nov

If you are ever visiting the Farmers’ Market or just shopping in Aberystwyth, then head to North Parade  – and Caesar’s. Owner Helen has somehow managed the impossible. She shops and supports local traders whenever possible; she offers a wide menu from a beautiful bumper breakfast to a tasty lunch selection, as well as a super selection of daily specials. Coffee quality is superb and her young staff, many of them students, are knowledgeable, polite, helpful and very friendly.

This is one of my favourite eating places in Aberystwyth and I only get cross if this popular place is full and I can’t get a table!

Ian and I called in for coffee after the Christmas Fair on Saturday and our order of bottle of water, a small and a large mocha coffee was just £4.70.  Please don’t think they have skimped on quality to achieve these competitive prices, because you’d be so wrong. It’s one of the best coffees in Aber.

So well done Helen and the team – you’re not only a credit to Aberystwyth – you’re a credit to Wales. We’ll see you very soon.

 

 

 
 

Royal Welsh Winter Fair

27 Nov

Regular readers will know that the RWAS, whatever the time of year, is not one of my favourite events. I think it starts with the terse welcome, whereas I want the person who takes my ticket to at least start my day pleasantly with a ‘good morning’………… Of course it’s boring for them to do that, but in fairness they are not having to do it 24/7 – just make an effort; I give extra points for smiles too!!

Anyway never mind, we have to be there and determined only to visit for one day, we had a lot of work to get through. Despite a car pass we saw no signs of where we had to park, so went in as normal and stopped a yellow jacket person who was wandering around and queried did he want us to park anywhere? To be told yes!!!

The Press Office was our first point of call so we headed in that direction and were amazed by the number of ‘stands’ and I use that term loosely, were not set up, in fact one was totally empty. But back to the Press Office and when we tried to sign in at 7.40, the door was locked and we waited – impatiently for a RWAS representative to arrive. I’ve never understand why the Smallholder and Winter Fair never feel that it warrants a Press Office being manned by the RWAS, but it does show how little RWAS think of the press and feel they all have more pressing jobs to do. Anyway we did get signed in but I could only find one press release. Normally Press Offices are inundated with press releases but not at RWAS.

The Food Hall was our next stop and I’d struggled to find much on RWAS website about the Food Hall, 2 images and 75 words, which I’ve shown in full for you, but no list of producers.

Food Hall

The quality and distinctiveness of Welsh food has earned a well-established reputation for excellence, distinction and flavour. The Food Hall exhibitors will again include Award Winning Producers in 2012 …a visit is a must, with the finest Welsh produce on show and for sale, offering many unique Christmas gift ideas …with a special Welsh flavour. Give your taste buds a treat, and sample the mouthwatering range of foods before filling the shopping bags!

It annoys me intensely that this Food Hall, which has cost upwards of £1.6m, still warrants little or no promotion and marketing from either the RWAS or wag. Now I don’t care a toss which of these two is responsible for the Food Hall as long as someone is and they do some basic promotion and marketing. Why are these basic jobs ignored?

When Elin Jones officially opened the Food Hall in 2010, she announced a new deal between wag and the RWAS to manage the £1.6m food hall. The financial support for the Food Hall amounts to nearly £300,000 over the next three years. At the time I did double-check with the Wag press office and was told that the RWAS will be paid 100k per year to run wag’s two events, the RWAS and the Winter Fair. I thought wag paid RWAS £50k for the old food hall, so aren’t RWAS lucky to be able to double its income when even in 2010 budgets were being slashed?

Maybe some of you will disagree with me but it is always interesting to get your comments and feedback, but I will never accept the way producers are treated so badly, or actually just ignored by RWAS. Our producers pay large fees for their stands, but then get so little back-up in terms of basic publicity from the RWAS or wag. We had to ring Fernleigh Designs, who run this event for wag, to find out which stall holders were in the Food Hall, but I’m still astonished why no-one thinks it is important that this information is put up on the RWAS website. I surely can’t be the only person who has an interest as to which producers were attending. I last checked the website on Tuesday and I couldn’t find any listing for food producers. I’ve blogged endlessly about this expensive Food Hall and I’m still taken aback when I was told an ‘expert’ designed this building!

Ian and I split up and covered the Food Hall and we both enjoyed managing to catch up with those producers who had time for a chat and gossip, whilst they were waiting for the influx of customers. Sadly we had food producers who hadn’t finished setting up at 8.15, which was rather disappointing. However I was so pleased that many producers, including lots of our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers, had made a real effort to get into the Christmas theme. Most stands looked wonderful, impressing me with the range of Christmas packs and gift ideas they had on offer and I did wonder if there was a prize in the Food Hall for the best Christmas stand. I was delighted to see how some producers had worked with each other traders on their gift packs and hampers and how many producers are now really into mail order. It would be too much to hope that Ian and I didn’t find any stands that didn’t have business cards or leaflets. How traders can attend any event and not have something for punters to take away really upsets me and certainly can’t help the traders. It’s simply not professional and not acceptable.

There were two very small areas in the Food Hall, in what I’d call dead space, very close to the loos, that had a few tables and chairs but I am talking a few. So many people wanting to take a break in the Food Hall, have a coffee, cake or lunch but there is nowhere in the pricey building that really caters for them. If you have children of elderly relatives with them, basically don’t expect the Food Hall to give you any respite. The huge middle area was left empty apart from three Christmas trees which could easily have been set up in the corners or in the entrance area. But we can’t risk holding our breath and expect wag or the RWAS to think about the poor punters or how to help the traders to sell more.

One of my many moans about RWAS Food Hall is how expensive the stands are. Too many producers have to make the decision to take a gamble, or play safe and not to attend. In July there’s the option for producers to take stand in the Farmers’ Market which has in the past been run by Steve Shearman. The market is something we have always supported and we were pleased to learn that this was happening for the Winter Fair, not run by Steve, but run by Food Centre Wales, Horeb, (FCW) with the ‘Gate To Plate’ Exhibition and held in the Members’ Centre.

I received a press release from Ceredigion County Council telling me about FCW’s involvement at the Winter Fair, but this was an interesting part of it:

There will also be a Christmas Farmers’ Market featuring food producers from Ceredigion. The Farmers’ Market will be situated on the patio area outside the Members’ building and at the entrance to the Fair.

I was surprised to read that is would be Ceredigion producers as according to the list of producers I asked for and received, I knew stands were from Powys, Pembrokeshire and southWales. So that didn’t make sense to me at all.

However the market stands were priced at a reasonable £50.00 per day which is reasonable, bearing in mind standard food markets fees are around £30 – £45 per day, there was a further £1.00 charged for an extra table, but not sure under the market stands, if this would be easy to sort out. But again I struggled to find anything on the RWAS website, and the information about tradestands was available seemed to be 2011 information, which doesn’t make sense and is very unfair, not only for the producers who are paying their hard-earned cash to attend, but for potential visitors who might web-browse before the visit. I’m really not sure how I can hammer this point home any harder, but I do realise that I’m trying to get through, by and large to people who get paid at the end each month, every month! I’m back once again to basic promotion and marketing. It’s something that I find is not done very well, not just by RWAS, but generally here inWalesin too many sectors.

Anyway back to the market. My first worry was the lack of any sign if you came up from the main car-park. It worked fine for members as the came through a gate and were then into the Members Centre. So here I go again, promise for the last time, this is basic marketing or rather it is a lack of it. The stands ran in two rows, one directly in front of and facing the Members Centre and the other running behind. I’d rather there was a better way of siting stands as you are asking people to walk down a length of tradestands and then turn round and walk back the same way, ideally these areas work better if people traffic can flow. For me I also think that separating the produce a little better is worth a thought too, two cheese producers in three stands is too close I think if it’s possible to mix them up a little more. One stand did say they’d like more space so perhaps the extra table offer could be made clearer if this is a regular event. I’m all for this opportunity for our producers to get a pitch at the RWAS and of course improvements can always be made but it is vital that markets are not only allowed at the RWAS, but encouraged and supported too.

I really do hope that this happens again next year with improved marketing and signage.

I couldn’t resist going into the members but wished I hadn’t succumbed to going upstairs to the seating area. Ian ordered two mochas and then reeled when he was charged £3.20 EACH. It was an issue getting a receipt, but perhaps farmers don’t bother nowadays. We still haven’t recovered from that rip off and wished we’d have returned to the Food Hall and gone to Ferraris whose mochas were £2.20 each!!!

We went back to the Press Room about 12.30 to find no coffee and cold stewed tea but as there weren’t any clean cups either it didn’t really matter. Checked the press releases situation and found about 5 – this is the RWAS Winter Fair but it appears that it is best if the press aren’t told too much of what is happening.

Our final stop at the Food Hall gave us mixed reports on the trade. Some had done exceedingly well whilst others were very disappointed. I know some traders hadn’t got their same spot this year and had no idea why they’d been moved, but can’t this be addressed on the application form?

I’m still waiting to hear from Fernleigh Designs to confirm tradestand prices in Food Hall.

I’ve still not had a reply to my email to Fernleigh Designs asking for prices but thanks to ‘Disappointed Trader’ who has kindly left Food Hall prices for me/us.

3.0m x 2.0m single-fronted stand (open on front only). £455.00 + VAT = £ 546.00 3.0m x 2.0m corner stand (open on two sides).             £505.00 + VAT = £ 606.00

I agree totally about high stand prices. High footfall at this event doesn’t guarantee high sales in the Food Hall, bearing in mind too how many people and children use the Hall just to take samples!

I’m really sorry you knew nothing about Farmers’ Market, we didn’t hear about it until very late and sent it around our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers as soon as we knew there was still space and the price that was being charged.

If it runs next year – hopefully they’ll tell us early so we can send details to our BOW.

It is vital that Farmers’ Markets are run at all three of the RWAS  shows, but it is unfair, if it is correct that the Food Hall is subsidised by wag, that the market isn’t. It also doesn’t make sense to me why there weren’t large signs at both the Food Hall and the Market telling people where the other food stalls were. Basic marketing is again missing  – but as the people responsible are no doubt paid regularly each month………………………maybe that explains it!

I am sure you are as bored of reading about my same old moans, as I am about writing about them. But how do we get things changed, altered, improved? Or preferably all three? It is sad that some organisers can’t work out that if they wish to get things right for traders, that they actually talk and get advice from some of the professionals on the circuit…………………….???????

 
 

Really Wild Festival Announces Exciting New Partnership With CADW

23 Nov

I was delighted to receive this morning the exciting news that the Directors of Really Wild Festival have set up a partnership agreement with CADW, the Welsh Government’s Historic Environment Service. This will allow them to run next year’s Really Wild festival at the medieval Bishop’s Palace, next to St David’s Cathedral, Pembrokeshire.

What a stunning setting, right in the heart of St David’s and with a new date too, over the Whitsun Bank Holiday weekend, this really looks a terrific move for the hard working Really Wild team.

I do have to be open with you and confess my bias here as I have always enjoyed attending this event. The organisers have built up a strong and enthusiastic team of helpers and volunteers, focusing on their Really Wild theme. They have worked hard to build a successful event. Everyone is friendly and helpful and that makes a huge difference whether you are a producer, craft person, a visitor, a local or like me, press. Plus they keep me in the loop with what’s happening, without me having to chase them!!!!

I hope this new venue and the Bank Holiday date brings them even more success.

I’ll keep you updated on the latest news from Really Wild as we get it, which will be sent out directly to our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers as a matter of course.

Look forward to seeing you all there.

 

 
 

Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill Should Be Law In 2013

21 Nov

GFingers crossed guys, but it looks like the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill is set become law. Of course some people still feel that improvements must still be made, this is quite a strong piece legislation, which has been much-needed for a long time.

The second reading of the Bill took place on Monday in the House of Commons and now moves onto the committee stage. It is expected that it will then pass through Parliament early next year.

An Adjudicator is already being recruited, so he or she can start the process on monitoring and enforcing the Groceries Code as soon as the Bill becomes law – which is again good news.

Producers and suppliers have long been held to ransom by the mighty power and force of large retailers. Hopefully the appointed Adjudicator will have full powers to ensure that they are allowed to do their job effectively.

However, while the current Bill is in many ways a strong and workable piece of legislation, although tweaks will have to be made.  Most importantly, MPs must gets these amendments done quickly to the Bill to ensure the adjudicator will, from day one, be able to fine retailers who are found to be in serious breach of the Groceries Code.

If this new law proves effective, rather as is so often the case, a dog with no teeth – producers who are working with supermarkets should find that the bullying tactics which many used  will become a thing of the past.  I know many of our Best Of Welsh & Border producers will feel this is some progress at long last.

 
 

Butchers, Who & Where Are You? Please Tell HCC Because They Don’t Know!!!

13 Nov

On 26th October I posted on my struggle to get what I thought was a simple FOI question, Number 6577 answered. The two questions were: 1. How many independent retails butchers are there in Wales? 2. Please forward the full list of all independent butchers in Wales. To be then told that the HCC, wag nor the FSA hadn’t the figures I’d asked for – that was it. So as is allowed I went forward to ask for an internal review to Wag in Pontypridd. This internal review got a similar response but I was also told if I wasn’t content with that response I could go back to him. Why oh why, would any civil servant after NOT answering a question, would they expect any journalist to be happy. In case you can’t guess, I’m not and here we go again. I’m sure it is not just me, but it is something I find infuriating, unprofessional and very annoying. Whilst emails banged backwards and forwards – achieving nothing new but wag’s game of smoke and mirrors continues. I’m then asked if I feel that wag and HCC should have this information this will be discussed with HCC. ‘If I feel’ ………guys I am not head honcho of HCC, because if I was, this basic information would have been there. How can any business, and in the case of HCC I use this term loosely, because you can’t be classed as a business if you are funded by wag and the levies paid for by the meat trade – but as I have been told that HCC is an industry lead body, how can they have the ability to lead anything at all if they don’t know how many local butchers they should be looking after? Cynics amongst you, will of course be saying that HCC have never looked after butchers and all the wordage on HCC’s website simply ‘says’ the right things but as we all know actions speak louder than words don’t they? I have followed through with this FOI question because butchers have quizzed me with one in particular asking me to send one through on his behalf. With my past poor record of achieving any sensible discussion with HCC, I warned him I wasn’t hopeful, but I certainly did expect to make some progress. Of course there are other options for me to try and at the moment I have a half page spare in our food editorial pages for our next issue of Welsh Country magazine, January/February. But do our readers really want to know that HCC, who is paid such a whacking amount of money to be a ‘lead industry body’ doesn’t know how many independent butchers there are in Wales – of course the embarrassment thankfully would be mine, but the question I’m struggling with, is will sharing this information help or hinder this industry further? Since Welsh Country magazine started eight years ago we set our stall out to support and promote local Welsh food in as many ways as we could. We ran a Buy Local – Eat Local campaign we put together our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers group, which now totals over 100 producers. We talk on a regular basis by phone and email to our BOW people, and they are more up-to-date with what is happening in their industry than they have ever been, which is excellent and is how it should be, despite the fact that communication should be wags job. We know when our producers are unhappy and we feel it is part of our role to help them when we can with any food problems. I started welshfoodbites and this has been a massive success, despite not being funded by anyone but us. If I tell you that I’ve asked on our producers’ behalf in excess of 30, yes thirty Freedom Of Information questions relating to food issues. Wag have eventually in some case, had to supply information that I’d been told was not in the public domain, but I got there, in time. It is not for the first time, I can assure that the WCM team and I feel we are the unpaid conscience of wag food, but does it still have to be this way?

So far this year Ian and I have attended 22 food festivals. But over the years we’ve attended numerous farmers’ markets, local produce markets, food conferences and food tourism groups. So surely there can’t be too much doubt that we have more than a good idea of what our food producers are thinking and wanting.

As wag, HCC or FSA don’t know butcher number in Wales, we are now having to speak to County Environmental Health officers to find if they have the information readily available. We still await a response but they have now put the question under an Freedom of Information banner so we should hear within 20 working days.  If this situation gets updated you can be sure I’ll let you know.

 
 

HCC Conference

08 Nov

I didn’t know HCC were having a conference, but then I’m not a farmer, or represent them, neither am I a partner in their supply chain – just a humble journalist whose publication supports the Welsh food industry. Thankfully Ian Mole picked this HCC information up from a Welsh Government newsletter and passed it over to me. But at a risk of making up my own script here, could one of the reasons the HCC team spend so much time abroad chasing export orders for our meat industry, be their reason for keeping the supermarkets on their toes? If Wales exports meat abroad at a high price, then it doesn’t it set a price precedent for the home multiple retailer market?

The Deputy Minister has had first hand knowledge of exports events in both Italy and France, which of course means he joins the no doubt large team from HCC that spend a great deal of time abroad at the Welsh taxpayers expense.

But before I let the Deputy Minister comment about the HCC conference I will register my amazement yet again that the markets in Italy and France, not to mention Japan are obviously known so well, but neither HCC or the Welsh Government canidentify the number of independent butchers in Wales. What do you believe that the HCC and the Welsh Government think of our local butchers, or will you agree with me that they never have been a priority. Or as one butcher said to me, ‘maybe we’ll be missed when we all shut up shop in despair’. What a pity that local butchers don’t have such strong representation capable of bending the ears of our Deputy Minister and HHC as the farmers have. Whilst they all focus on the ‘bigger picture’Wales loses more and more butchers.

Anyway enough of my views, let me leave you to digest the sound bites from the Deputy Minister.

Thursday 08 November

Deputy Minister for Agriculture Alun Davies has stressed the importance of creating new export markets in Europe to boost the Welsh meat industry.

Speaking at the Hybu Cig Cymru annual conference, Mr Davies praised the work of the organisation in promoting Welsh meat both abroad and at home.

He said: “I have recently seen at first hand the great work Hybu Cig Cymru has done in promoting Welsh lamb and beef at events in Italy and France. We all need to focus on the bigger picture. It is important not only to maintain existing contracts, but to find new ones home and abroad.”

The Deputy Minister also stressed to the conference in Llandudno the importance of farmers further developing their business acumen. He said: “Farmers should be encouraged to increase their business planning through training and mentoring, viewing training as an investment in their business rather than a cost.”

Mr Davies said the Welsh Government would do its bit to support the Welsh meat industry by providing a strong voice in Europe. “Currently, CAP is, as I have already made clear, the number one issue and priority for us all and will dominate proceeding for the next 18 months.

I am pressing for a ten year transition to the new area based payments to ensure Welsh farmers are given enough time to make changes. I believe that on CAP, as with so many other issues, the Welsh Government is pretty much on the same page as farmers in Wales and their representative bodies.”

Mr Davies added: “I am keen to build on the dialogue between the Welsh Government, farmers and their representatives, and partners across the supply chain so that we can all work together for the good of the industry. Making sure the industry has a confident, profitable, and sustainable future is something that everyone needs to work towards.”

 

 
 

Head For The Hive, In Aberaeron During November for ‘Winter Wednesdays’ Night

07 Nov

I’ve posted about The Hive in Aberaeron, Ceredigion before, because it is one of my favourite frequent ‘out for a walk’ coffee stops over a weekend. Whilst Ian and I were there on Sunday, wondering how far we were going to be able to walk before the rain set in, when we noticed a poster for their ‘Winter Wednesdays’ night menu.

We asked one of the friendly assistants more about it and she explained what this super bargain deal was all about. But first let me share what this week’s choices are:

Starters:

Bacon, tomato and butterbean soup

Roast butternut squash, sage and parmesan crust, sweet chilli sauce

Mains:

Venison meatballs, thyme roast potatoes

Spiced lamb shoulder, mash potato, jus

Salmon bake & greens

Dessert:

Choice of honey ice creams

Apple Crumble

At £10.00 per person for such good quality food and a menu that changes weekly it is too good to miss. So if you are in the area and fancy a mid-week treat, then trust me and take The Hive up on this special mid-week offer. There’s always a great atmosphere at The Hive and such super service too, it’s no wonder it is one of my favourite places.

 

Every credit to this young team for trying out new ideas and promotions, which will entice  many of us to go out in the middle of the week. If you’ve not had their fantastic ice-creams before then you don’t know just what you have been missing. Not sure if booking is necessary, but I think I’d call first and to make your life easier – here’s their number: 01545 570445 .