RSS
 

Archive for May, 2013

Sun Shines On Really Wild Food Festival

28 May

It’s not professional to have favourite food festivals, I know that, but being human, I must confess this is one of mine. Ian and I have been visiting this event for many years and the welcome we receive is always warm and friendly. Alison Belton is the lady in charge of promotion and marketing and if only some other festivals could clone her, their life would be a little easier! I get regular press releases about this event, their website is up-to-date, including food producers attending and I’m kept totally in the loop of what’s going on. There was also plenty of signage coming in too – another of my gripes sorted.

RWFF’s move from their usual site on the outskirts of St Davids to The Bishops Palace in the cathedral grounds, courtesy of CADW, plus changing the date again to take advantage of the Bank Holiday, was in many ways a massive gamble. But one I thought made total sense. Yet at the Smallholder the previous weekend, I had producers moaning saying this new venue would not work, the date wouldn’t work, they shouldn’t have said they were going to attend…………Well my reading of this was the Smallholder was too quiet, producers therefore had too much time to chat amongst themselves and the moaning began to take hold. Of course moving venue and date was risking, but at least give it a chance! Attending an event in a negative attitude never works, and I know because I’ve done it too!

Ian and I had a super drive across to St Davids on Saturday morning; the sun shining made our early start worthwhile and we had to be early as we had so many of our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers attaending. When we’d parked up, our first stop had to be Preseli Coffee whose mocha coffee I absolutely love. If Preseli stand is at a food festival, then my day is off to a good start. Preseli coffee owner Deryck’s stand was in the concession area, the Food-To-Go, or Sit-Down-And-Have-A-Chat-Area and I was pleased to see that another of my regular food festival gripes had been addressed. Tables and chairs were already set out here and it proved a very popular meeting/resting place as I called back here quite a few times during the day to check it out. Of course the weather helped this area, if the rain had arrived that would have caused problems, my only concern was perhaps more tables and chair were needed. As it was, people were happy to sit on the grass and enjoy a delicious array of local produce, goodness me you were spoilt for choice and there was no reason at all for people to leave hungry. It was a joy to see fresh fish, courtesy of Solva Fish. Fisherman Jonno had come up with a new idea of a fish box, containing a lobster, 2 dressed crab, and four sustainable fillets of fish, I think it’s a brilliant idea, plus Solva Fish can also mail order. I think this is going to be a winner for them and will help the people who are struggling to buy Welsh fish.

Walking through to the main food producer area, which was well laid out, each producer under bright blue and yellow pagodas made for a very cheery setting. But early on, I again met some producers that were saying it was quiet, people would be off to the beach etc, etc. Well it was a quiet start, but if I’m on holiday, getting up at the crack of dawn and rushing around is not holiday, it’s like work!!! The team from CADW were brilliant and justifiably proud of this wonderful setting. They have got really behind this new venture and I’m sure it will help them in the future. Early in the afternoon I asked CADW lady on the gate about numbers through and was given a very accurate 2,000, though it wasn’t even 2.00. Brian Powdrill has since emailed me and given me the official, verified figures through the gate were 2,220 on Saturday and 3,815 on Sunday. So if producers didn’t have a good time then maybe they need to reassess their trade stand and find other ways to tempt punters to taste and buy. We cannot escape the fact that the recession continues and here in Wales trade seems harder and harder, but if producers want to survive then they’ll have no option but to keep thinking and trying different ways to tempt visitors to spend. Some stands had made an extra effort, including Cwm Deri who had some festival offers including Pembrokeshire Pimms, which was delicious! Mike had a board advertising his specials and it appeared to be working well. Other producers did work hard to smile at punters and engage them in conversation, whilst the odd few, sat at the back of their stands and did not look at all happy, sure you can guess which stands did best. I must also mention that I was pleased to see many stands that had business cards and literature out too, another of soapbox gripes.

The guys parking cars were brilliant, so polite and helpful, in fact everyone I chatted to was friendly, not a grumble in sight. I am amazed that this festival has got together a team of volunteers willing not only to give up, in this case the bulk of a Bank Holiday a weekend, but to attend the necessary meetings to, which take place before and after the event. Founders Julia and Brian must take much of the credit for building such a great team.

I think more tables and chairs in the concession area, more waste bins dotted around, and more signage showing where the different areas are would help but with a new venue, I cannot imagine the headaches the team have had. As always though with the RWFF they never rest on their laurels and always listen to and want feedback, just make it constructive. I caught the end of a cookery demo which proved popular and I wonder if this event might consider using some of the producers, next year to showcase their companies. Another constant soapbox gripe is that anyone doing a cookery demo uses produce from the event, along with local chefs, thinking that this is  what these events are all about, bringing communities together and pushing our local food, which in this case was with a really wild theme. I’m sure there was a map somewhere but guess I missed it, but these are always a great idea.

So my congratulations to the RWFF team for your bravery in taking on a new venue and your determination and planning to make it work. You must all be shattered, but delighted in what you managed to achieve this weekend. Whoever said prayers in the cathedral for warm sunny weather, deserves a pat on the back too!
See you next year!  

 
 

Y Talbot, Tregaron, Ceredigion

24 May

People have been asking me for good news, well I’ve got some guys, good news for a change. I’m lucky to be invited to quite a few events across Wales, but unfortunately I’m limited in the number I can get to, in between food festivals and farmers’ markets. But when an invite came through to spend an Open Evening at Y Talbot, Tregaron, I simply had to put it in my diary and get myself there.

Well it was a delightful drive through a pretty part of Ceredigion to arrive at Tregaron and what a pleasant surprise Ian and I had when we parked outside Y Talbot, the transformation of this historic and characterful inn can I can only described as totally amazing. I guess it must have been four or five years since we last called into Y Talbot and to be quite honest I could not believe the amount of renovation work that has been undertaken. It’s totally transformed this lovely Grade 2 Listed building without losing, its charm, character and ambience. Partners Mick, Nia and chef Dafydd have done an unbelievable job in taking on such a Herculean task and doing such a brilliant job on it.

We were joined at this Open Evening by many of the craftsmen that had taken part in the renovation work, all local companies, it is heartening to see that we have such quality tradespeople that can not only do building work, but are so skilled, they can not only keep the character of this beautiful building, but improve it. All those craftsmen have done such amazing work, that they should be very, very proud of themselves.

Also invited were local food producers and I was pleased to see many of our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers amongst them. It was great to have the chance to catch up in such a wonderful, relaxing environment. Food is a very important part of Y Talbot. Head chef Daffyd Watkin is passionate about local food, which is why we had so many local producers in attendance. I’m impressed with Daffyd, who only serves freshly cooked food, always using the best local ingredients. Visitors have the choice of eating in the pub or in the restaurant and food is served all day. If it’s just a drink you require, then you’ll be spoilt in the choice of Welsh beers, I couldn’t fault the selection on offer, especially as many are our Best Of Welsh producers too! It was a beer drinkers Welsh heaven!

As you might have guessed, the bedrooms were also well up to par, stylish, comfortable with luxurious bathrooms that have been beautifully finished with top quality specifications throughout, including family and rooms for disabled guests.  All this and a Welsh breakfast, plus there’s a garden area for those lovely summer days and balmy evenings.

Y Talbot is a superb venue for event, celebrations, dinners, conferences and weddings. Whatever festivity you have coming up, you’d do well to check out Y Talbot first. They can cater for 40 people in the restaurant and 130 in the function room and are happy to cater for hot and cold buffets, lunches and dinners, all you have to do is tell them what you’re thinking of and let them do the rest.

Tregaron, steeped in history, is a brilliant base for exploring the rural delights of Ceredigion and the new-look Y Talbot is certainly establishing itself as the place to stay for walkers, cyclists, motor bikers, bird watchers etc. there is just so much to do whatever your interest and families are welcomed too.

Many of the staff are Welsh speakers, food suppliers are included in the menus and everyone I met was so friendly and helpful, even with my endless questions.

I think what really chuffed me to bits was not just the remarkable transformation of Y Talbot, but the attitude of Mick, Nia and Dafydd. How local food is vital to the success of Y Talbot and how this really helps so many of our local food producers  businesses and how the transformation and success of Y Talbot will help to grow their food suppliers companies. But it doesn’t stop there, as all staff are from the local area and that includes 3 trainee chefs as well.

Time prevents me from writing more about this delightful place, but can I suggest that when you have a free moment, visit www.ytalbot.com and find out a little more about them and I’m sure it will tempt you to call in if you are in the area, or take a brak for the weekend and taste Welshj food at its best and relax in delightful, friendly place.

 
 

Royal Welsh Show Criteria Update

22 May

For those of you not attending RWAS, but wish to know just how the application process is arrived at, then the information received today from wag might be of interest:

Guidelines & Criteria For Exhibiting In The Food Hall

THE RECRUITMENT PROCESS

Only one application per company is permitted. Multiple applications on behalf of a single company, trading under various names, will not be permittedStands will be allocated to product categories to ensure a fair and even representation of all product sectors.

The categories represented will be:

  • Meat                                      
  • Cheese and dairy products
  • Drink
  • Organic products
  • Confectionery and baked products
  • Speciality foods

The Organisers reserve the right, without prejudice, to disregard inappropriate applications that are considered to be outside the guidelines laid out herein.

SELECTION CRITERIA

Applications will score highest from companies where:

  • food/drink is produced, processed or manufactured in Wales.
  • raw materials used include Welsh agricultural produce.
  • a new product, brand or service is to be launched at the Show – priority will be given to companies who will bring new innovative product to the event that will attract trade buyers and consumers to the Food Hall.
  • the application clearly demonstrates the long term added value for the exhibiting company that is expected to be created through exhibiting in the Food Hall.
  • the company does not exhibit elsewhere on the showground with the same offering, e.g. food-to-go.
  • there is limited duplication of the same food/drink provision in the Food Hall, in other words we will limit the number of similar products to be exhibited.
  • The company has not exhibited within the Food Hall before – particular consideration will be given to these companies.

I’m sure this ‘discussion’ will rumble on and I agree with a producer who has suggested, as we have in the past, that wag should still try and assist those that they have rejected by organising a market elsewhere on the showground. I believe that the Farmers’ Market run by Steve Shearman should still go ahead, all being well but that is not large enough to accommodate all producers that require space.

 

 

 
 

Royal Welsh Food Hall

21 May

As always, the RWAS Food Hall never fails to cause anger and upset amongst Welsh food producers. I’ve actually lost count of the number of producers that stopped me at Sunday’s Smallholder event, have emailed me or telephoned in to complain.

My reading of the situation is that a number of producers who have traded on a regular basis in the Food Hall at the RWAS, have now been told they can no longer attend. The initial excuse, or explanation that we have been given is the regular excuse that  Food Hall was oversubscribed and all applications cannot be accepted. Apparently all applicants were sent along with their application form, the scoring criteria, and it was the scoring criteria that was used so that decisions could be made. Follows is the Welsh Government’s official:

A Welsh Government spokesperson said,
“The Food Hall at the Royal Welsh Show is jointly run by the Welsh Government and the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society with the application process for stand space being managed through event management company, Fernleigh.

Due to space limitations it was impossible to accommodate all applicants for stand space and a scoring criteria was used which included an emphasis on the use of Welsh produce. All applicants were made aware of this and a copy of the criteria was included in their application packs.

While we appreciate some applicants may be disappointed we remain committed to promoting the wealth of food producers we have in Wales and the quality of their produce.

Now dear readers, much as I want to, I’m not prepared to mention companies who this year have been unceremoniously ousted from the RWAS, but to say that some of these are well known Welsh companies, sums it up perfectly. Ian and I have now asked Fernleigh Design and wag food for a copy of the ‘criteria’ which seems to be the crunch item, but still waiting to receive it from either party.

So without that information I’d like to seriously take wag food and Fernleigh Design to task on their ‘emphasis on the use of Welsh products’. I’d like to know how many companies producing bakery goods can give assurance that they are using Welsh flour and Welsh butter? How many companies producing bara brith and Welsh cakes have found a supplier that grows raisins and sultanas in Wales? I thought wag food might have learnt a lesson from a company – now no longer in existence that persuaded wag that he grew tea in Pembrokeshire. So convincing was this company that wag gave him a True Taste Award and featured him on the front cover of that magazine!!! In part see where wag are trying to come from, but as usual they get it wrong because of their inability to see the bigger picture.

Ideally I’d like to give you examples of companies that have been unfairly thrown out, because that would allow you to understand more clearly how wrong this selection process appears to be, but as I haven’t asked for their permission to do so and bearing in mind it might well stop them getting a last minute stand, I shall reluctantly stay quiet!!! But as some of these are our Best Of Welsh producers, I am furious with both wag food and Fernleigh, and cannot believe that their isn’t a better way to sort this out.

Now you’d think was enough to go on with wouldn’t you? But I’ve sadly not finished having just been told by a third party that producers have been told to pay up by 31st May, if not they lose their stand. Nothing has been arranged for smaller companies to be able to make stage payments through to July, it’s pay now, in full, or else!!!!!

Without a doubt the Food Hall will have plenty of large companies who will not be stretched in the slightest having to write wag food one large cheque, but for smaller companies it is going to cause them enormous problems. In case wag are not aware or have just forgotten, Wales is still in the midst of a recession, people are cutting back on food purchases, the season so far has been a wash-out and last weekend’s Smallholder Show could hardly be described as even a vague success, sited in the old Food Hall. But isn’t it typical of wag that their focus seemingly remains on the big boys and no thought at all to the smaller guys. If wag food had any vague hope that some of these smaller companies might in the futrue grow, then my suggestion would be to stop trying to strangle the life out of them!

I did hear rumours from a source close to the wag food department that the RWAS Food Hall was going to change this year, but as yet that’s as far as I’ve got, no more news there. Wag food have not told me their plans for altering the Food Hall. Yes of course  some food producers need to become more professional. I’ve said that so many times on welshfoodbites. I’ve complained bitterly about producers not having signage on their stand, no banners, no business cards, no leaflets etc. but I wonder why this is not one of wag’s criteria, because it really should be.

The longer this goes on, the more concerned I am that wag food have lost the plot as far as Welsh food is concerned. OK I can already hear you saying they never knew what the plot was in the first place. But things have to improve whilst we still have some producers left. I’ve no idea at all where wag are getting their advice from, if they are getting any advice at all. But I sincerely hope wag are not paying for said advice, because you are being ripped off if that’s the case.

If, or when I get any updates, I’ll pass them onto you. All I can do is offer my sympathy for those of you that have been ousted without a reasonable explanation, but if what I’m hearing happens I think some traders will change their mind about accepting the stand they have been offered. So maybe some stands will still come along at the 11th hour. I’m really sorry we are again in this situation as an industry. Selfishly I don’t care if producers that aren’t with us on our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers listing, haven’t got in, but do feel so sorry for those of our BOW that have been thrown out.

 
 

Conwy Food Festival Does Go Ahead

16 May

I’ve heard so many rumours about whether this festival, due to run on 26th – 27th October is actually going to go ahead. This year the festival has received government funding of £10k, which is a huge drop from the £33,683.61 they received last year. A couple of Best Of Welsh producers have called in saying they are sure this festival isn’t going to run this year, purely because of the cut in funding. I’m was told that £10k covers about 7% of their costs and if it does go ahead stand prices and tickets prices will have to be increased.

So yesterday I contacted wag food about the rumours that were circulating about various food festivals. They were very quick to respond to me saying they had not heard of the Conwy food festival being cancelled and my government contact very kindly gave me a link to Conwy’s food festival website and I went that way to ask Conwy directly. Not had a response so far, so I’m taking this as a rumour only until I hear from Conwy directly. Well, it must be telepathy working, because I’ve now had an email response from Conwy saying that these are rumours only and the festival is certainly going ahead for what will be their  10th Anniversary. I’ve of course asked if tradestands and ticket prices will be increased and when I get a response I’ll let you know.

It will be interesting to see how many festivals this year raise their tradestands prices to cover the government festival grant shortfall. Food producers are of course not happy to have stand prices increased because of course that cuts into their profit margins. If festivals then cut back on promotion and advertising then must make the decision as to whether they can take a gamble on attending.

 

 
 

Great British Cheese Festival Does Not Run This Year

15 May

I contacted Cardiff Council today after getting too many calls and emails about whether this festival was running this year. I’m delighted to say I not only got a prompt response from a Cardiff spokesperson, but a very full and helpful response too!

Here’s the gist of it for you, bearing in mind I know how disappointing it will be for some of you:

The Great British Cheese Festival is first and foremost a showcase for cheesemakers. The aim is to provide a quality experience for visitors in which they can enjoy the huge variety of British Cheeses on offer and engage with the makers to discover more about their various processes. The event relies upon the attendance of the cheesemakers supported of course by the many other quality producers on site.

Cardiff have worked closely with the Specialist Cheesemakers Association on this event and in discussion this year they have raised concerns on behalf on many of the smallest makers that they are finding it difficult to attend the event in Cardiff on the years where they are also committed to attending the Cheese Festival at the Slow Food Festival, in Bra, Italy – another fantastic food event. Both events are important to the cheesemakers and they would like to remain well represented at each, but for many it is simply not feasible to spend that much time away from their businesses. From our point of view we feel that the presence of the smaller cheesemakers is vital to the integrity of the Cardiff event. We have therefore come to the conclusion that the best way to maintain the Great British Cheese Festival in its fullest format (including trade day and awards dinner) will be to make it a biennial event, taking place on alternate years with the Slow Food Festival i.e.: 2014, 2016, 2018 etc.

Cardiff are still committed to offering producers and public an autumn event in Cardiff on the in-between years, one in which cheese still has a significant presence and maintains the relationship with CAMRA. They want to offer the opportunity to cheesemakers who are happy to attend to continue to showcase their products, to offer a retail opportunity to those who cannot, and to cater for the loyal audience Cardiff has built up.

Cheese producers should receive more information about this event in the next couple of weeks; bearing in mind some producers might already have commitments elsewhere.

I’m sorry this will not be the news many of you hoped for but it will certainly make sense for the smaller cheesemakers that we have here in Wales.

 

When Cardiff send me out further news on their autumn event I’ll post it to make sure as many producers as possible are aware of it.

 
 

Great British Cheese Festival – Cardiff

15 May

Yet another rumour that has been gathering in strength is that the Great British Cheese Festival might not run. The date I have for this event is 28th – 29th September. This festival is not funded by wag food and runs under Cardiff City Council.

I have today emailed Cardiff Council and am awaiting a response. As soon as I have one I’ll post again.

I’m hoping that this rumour is untrue as we have many Best Of Welsh & Borders producers who attend this event and had reasonable feedback about it. But it is not just our food producers that will suffer if this festival also bites the dust, but it doesn’treflect well on Wales, does it?

 

 
 

Llyn Land & Seafood Festival, Pwllheli

14 May

I was told this morning by a Best Of Welsh & Borders food producer, that the Llyn festival, due to be held in Pwllheli over the weekend of the 25th – 26th May will not now be going ahead.

I’ve contacted wag who confirmed very quickly that this is the case. I’ve not been given details as to why, but this is very disappointing for the area which does not have that many food festivals over the year.

 
 

Supply Chain Efficiencies Scheme And The Welsh Cider & Perry Society

14 May

I’m not sure if many of you are aware of funding that was awarded two years ago to the Welsh Cider & Perry Association, WCPS, by the Supply Chain Efficiencies Scheme. Two years ago they were awarded £347k, which in effect was to support 59 cider producers but did as so many of these projects, did not have to be sustainable. We work with some excellent cider and perry producers, but we can only count to around 15, so where are the other 44 producers? We’ve been made aware that there are a number of smaller producers along the English border, who all produce less than the 7000 litres limit, below which no duty has to be paid.

Now I do have a serious gripe here in that when a cider or perry producer sells 7001 litres, they then have to pay duty on all 7001 litres, so in practical terms, you either produce a lot of cider or perry and then the duty can be spread over many litres, or you stay below the 7000 limit. So right now, it could be argued that wag is supporting if not black, then the seriously grey economy. Although at the same time wag are saying that they will only support fast growing businesses and have a general attitude of generally pushing food and drink producers towards the supermarkets. This does sound somewhat contradictory to me.

This is no fault of the cider and perry producers as they have no option but work around the rules and regulations put together by both the Senedd and the Westminster government. One simple solution would be to put in a sliding scale of duty from say 7000 litres to 15,000 litres so that producers are encouraged to grow more apples and pears and therefore produce more cider and perry. But maybe that is too easy.

However, true to form, I digress, sorry, back to my story.

Along with the monies above, WCPS have been funded from the food festival budget, being awarded £9,509 in 2011, £5,260 in 2012 and £3,855 this year. I believe that one of these festivals was actually held in a smallish pub, so not sure how many people attended that one!

Now why am I moaning about Welsh Cider and Perry Society? Well actually flabbergasted would cover it better as Ian has spoken to them today, to be told, yet again, that they have no budget for promotion. Well goodness knows where their funding goes, but my next question is how are they promoting and marketing this event?

I’m also intrigued that in wag’s criteria for food festival funding they require that festivals must:

Awareness raising of the event by promotional material/ Press/signage.

Press, PR and marketing – budget identified/appropriate to the scale of event Greater awareness of local food – championing local producers.

Well those two, of many requirements, are interesting from my point of view as Welsh media. Firstly I have been moaning about the lack of signage, promotional material and basic press releases from food festivals for too many years. But secondly I have never had a press release from the Welsh Cider & Perry Society about their event. Having said that they are not alone, far from it, and I do hope wag maybe take the time to ask me how many festivals have actually fulfilled those criteria, because I can tell you so far it will not be a long list!!!

As some of you will be aware I’ve raised some serious questions about SCES with wag and, as you would expect, got absolutely nowhere. Ian and I did get profuse apologies from all those attending a meeting with us, for not answering our questions. But did we really expect civil servants to actually admit that they had got either procedures and or policies wrong? Well of course we didn’t, we’ve given up dreaming!!!!

The next round of SCES scheme starts next year as part of the Rural Development Plan and it will be interesting as to see how this scheme progresses. But I’m not happy that Wales still has no published timetable, (unlike Scotland which I have previously blogged.

Let’s hope that those in charge of these vast budgets think long- term about how the money can help the Welsh rural economy to grow and grow, without continual government intervention instead of just ticking Wag/Westminster and Europe’s boxes.

 

 
 

Labelling Misleads Consumers

10 May

A Best Of Welsh & Borders producer sent the following through to me:

The head of Dairy Crest has said that consumers who are keen to buy British produce are being confused over foreign cheese that appears to be made in Britain.

Mark Allen said that 100,000 tonnes of Cheddar is exported to the UK annually, yet much of it carries a UK ‘health mark’, because the packing takes place in this country. He added that he would like to see a more accurate on-pack message, and is calling on the government and the cheese industry to act. Mr Allen told Food Manufacture, “In the minds of consumers, it is UK cheese because the packaging carries UK health marks. I think the whole supply chain can help with this, because there isn’t a level playing field. “What the industry needs is clarity. It needs the government, our customers, ourselves and consumers to understand where the cheese is made. We source 100% of our milk from Devon and Cornwall and we are very proud to be a UK brand. The money we make from that product goes into the UK economy, to our farmers, to our staff and to our shareholders. All of the effort we put in is for the UK. “To make sure that our UK investment remains valid, we want to play on an even playing field where consumers can choose to purchase what they believe is right either – from overseas or from a UK product.” A spokesperson for the British Cheese Board added, “By law, all dairy products must carry a health mark that indicates where the last significant stage of processing took place. What is confusing is that most of the imported Cheddar is cut into smaller pieces and, as such, will carry a UK health mark. So, unless the packaging on the cheese tells you that it came from a named UK dairy, farm, region or country within the UK, it is likely that the Cheddar is imported.”

I do wish that our wag food department could get to grips with this issue which certainly does not just apply to the cheese market, but to many other food areas too. It’s their job to promote our local food, that is what WE pay them for. For food to be imported and then packaged here does not make it Welsh or even British. Get to grips with this guys for goodness sake!