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Archive for June, 2013

Milford Haven Food Festival

24 Jun

Milford is the opening day of Pembrokeshire Fish Week. Last year this event was funded by wag to the tune of £31,671, which I didn’t quite understand as I thought only the Milford event was classed as a food festival during Fish Week, so there’s no doubt that this amount of funding from the Food festival budget for a one day fest, was excessive. However it seems that Pembrokeshire Fish Week was the exception, as the funding from the food festival budget actually helped to support the whole of Fish Week, so it was in theory a Food Festival Fish Week. Not at all sure that any of our food producers were attending other events that week, but perhaps they were…..

This year the organisers, for some reason asked wag for £30k, despite the fact that wag had already stated that the funding for all food festivals would be limited to £10k. Milford got their £10k from wag food as well as funding from Visit Wales’ Major Events Unit of £25k. The event also had an impressive list of sponsors and supporters totalling 26, which excluded Pembrokeshire County Council, Wag food and the Major Events Unit.

We’d had quite a few of Best Of Welsh producers in attendance and they told me that they were charged £75.00 for a day’s pitch, plus £5.00 if a table was required and then £1.00 vat on the table. Concessions or food-to-go were £120.00 plus electrics. I really wouldn’t want to be a producer, because it’s really such a gamble for them and never more so than in these tough economic times. Producers have to sell a lot of product before their profit covers the cost of the stand, let alone, the cost of getting there, preparing produce, and also their time. Ok producers, I know your time is not often up to the minimum wage, but I am aware that all these factors have to be taken into account before you go ahead and book a stand.

Entry fees were first charged at Milford in 2011. As you well know, I’m not pro entry fees, but I’ve been told that in 2011, 2, 000 people visited Milford, despite the bad weather and the entrance fee. Last year when I reported on this festival, the entrance charge was £2.00 per adult with gate money raising £8,365. Not knowing Milford all that well, I was puzzled as to where there was the parking for these many people. There’s no doubt that 12,000 is a lot of people and a lot of cars. The other thing that I couldn’t understand last year was with a supposed 12,000 people, why wasn’t it busy? Plus, that wasn’t just my view, but that of many producers who were so bored at times they were wandering around chatting to each other – not a good sign.  Anyway, back to entry fees which this year have gone up another pound to £3.00, so £6.00 for two people to go in, which is roughly two pots of delicious local jam that those people might not buy. I remain unconvinced that two adults will find value-for-money if all they wish to do is shop for local food. If you’ve children with you, that’s a different matter, as those under 10 years of age were allowed in for free. So if there’s plenty to keep kids amused, then that might be money well spent, so in that instance there’s some logic there.

I was informed that overall attendance last year during the nine days of Fish Week was 26,500, but that’s another area I find confusing. I can recall visiting Saundersfoot a couple of years back on the final day and there was certainly no visitor count taken there. So if not all events over the nine days were ticketed, how can a final figure be reached? Or was 26,500 a ‘guessimate’ figure that wag and Visit Wales need for their records so they can provide funding? I noted this year there was a Park & Ride available from Mackerel Quay and Robert Street Car Park so that must have helped many people struggling to find a parking space. Parking was busy when we arrived about 12.00ish, but the attendants were polite and very helpful, so that was a bonus.

I wasn’t happy with the layout of stands here last year and I certainly wasn’t any happier this year. It’s another of my grumbles that producers have to book a stand on trust, pay up front and it’s often not until they arrive at the event that they know where they are sited. Having said that some festivals have now got this down to a fine art, they’ve a floor plan and can tell producers just where they’ll be sited and to me that is the fairest way for producers and if you’re not running a festival for the producers, then in my view you shouldn’t be taking money from wag food. Last year I was disappointed that food concessions, or food-to-go, were so spread out and this was just the case this year. Cowbridge food festival have got this right, again in my view, as they’ve one long marquee where all the hot food is – simple. That makes it easy for producers and easy for visitors to find. The array of hot food on offer there is amazing, so much so that visitors are literally spoilt for choice, but that’s such a good problem to have. There’s also some seating and tables outside, which is another bonus, unless it rains!!!!! Of course I’m aware that tentage is expensive, but if food producers are at the forefront of your mind, which they should be, then somewhere to sit and eat hot food should be a priority. Actually I feel it’s essential if you have children, elderly people, or someone in a wheelchair in your party. Sitting down and eating at a festival, enjoying the local food should be a fun part of the foodie experience. All too frequently that isn’t the case and I’m not happy about it, and neither should wag be either. There were chairs and tables between the two entrances with a massive mobile van, the only bonus there was that at least they said they were selling Welsh sausages. I’m sure it’s just me, but to see a big mobile van doesn’t make me think I’ve entered a Welsh, government supported food festival more a down-market funfair.

We entered the food festival from the marina end and on entering the festival where confronted with a run of quango stands, like the life guards, Pembrokeshire National Park, Sea Cadets etc. opposite which was a very posh musical stage. So it was quite a walk until I found an actual food stand Trioni with their great drinks and Little Welsh Deli and their lovely pasties and cakes. Generally food stands were mixed in with craft stands, not a good idea and in my opinion was it was messy. It just didn’t flow, there was no improvement in my book and I disliked the layout as much as last year.

The Cookery Demos were another frustration. No tent, just a kitchen unit from Aga Rangemaster. Not sure why they’d brought Aga in as I thought PCC had their own mobile kitchen, but there we are. The rain in the morning obviously washed that area out and when I passed mid afternoon, the area was, you’ve guessed it, messy as rubbish and leaflets had been thrown on the floor and just left. There was a shortage of bins, so although people were to blame for the hideous litter, surely we need to encourage them by having more bins. People are often lazy and thoughtless so at least give them more bins and see if that works. Angela Gray was one chef working in the cookery demo area, I’m sure she’s been attending for quite a few years, plus she’s a regular at Narbeth too. As I reported last year and I’m back on my old soap-box again, I cannot understand why festivals don’t use more local chefs. There are so many talented chefs throughout Pembrokeshire, so for me that’s a really wasted opportunity. Last year Caerphilly invited a few of the professional producers to do demos or give talks. I’d not seen this before, apart from at Ludlow festival, but I have to say some of these were excellent and worked really well for the producers too, which is the whole point isn’t it? So I was not impressed by the cookery demo area basically because added to my other moans, I’d no idea who was actually cooking. I couldn’t see a blackboard or a notice board giving chef and times of demos and nothing saying what they were cooking either.

There were not many places to buy tea and coffee, which surprised me as we do have plenty here in Wales. Anyway at the very end of all the tradestands there was a small tent with singers in, and with tables and chairs outside in the open. Apparently according to a PFW flyer they were fishermen from Cornwall. Although there were some food to go stands close by, no-one sitting in this area was drinking let alone eating. Sadly it wasn’t just the fishermen singers that didn’t have a banner; some stands didn’t have banners either. I think the prize for the worst stand had to go to Pieroth who had one card table and two pop up banners, they were pushing wine tasking and address given as Bedfordshire.

Friday afternoon, 14/6, I received an email from Kate Morgan – Food Development Manager for PCC; I couldn’t read it had come through as complete gobbledygook; I replied on Monday explaining and returning it, but have received no response. I am not sure what the email was about, maybe it was a press release about the food festival at Milford, but I’ve no way of knowing. Yet that raises a few questions for me. Wag stated this year that all food festivals should send out press releases, it’s one of their criteria, but if this was a food festival press release, sent on 14/6 with an event kicking off on 22/6, why was it sent so late? I cannot believe PCC have not been sending out press releases to their local Pembrokeshire newspapers, that would be stupid beyond belief, but if they have, why couldn’t I have been added to that list? I emailed Pembrokeshire County Council on 10/6 not only asking for press tickets, but also for a list of producers as there was NO list on their website. So did my email prompt them to send me a belated press release?

I totally accept that as Pembrokeshire Fish Week are not advertising their event with us, even though I understand that many visitors come from outside Pembrokeshire, I wouldn’t have done any promotion work for them. After, if it’s not a two-way street, then it’s not fair is it? However Ian has tried many, many times over the years to get PCC to work with us and one occasion was told that their advertising budget had been cut to safe-guard staff jobs. Press releases are important, surely that’s obvious to such a large machine as PCC, but it is also a condition for them drawing their funding from wag. I’m talking to wag about this and I’ve suggested to them that they not only request copies from festivals of all press releases sent out, but a listing as to who they were sent to and finally, proof of where they were published. Now before I hear PCC and other organisers groaning that that is too much work, can I remind organisers that it’s a wag criteria that you do send out press releases? Too many festivals are seriously falling down in this area and I shall ask wag that they evaluate festival forms carefully in this area fully before paying out any funding. Press releases are a vital marketing tool, the more publicity you get for your event; the more likely you are to get additional visitors through the gate. My concern is for our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers, that you get plenty of people to your event so they have a fighting chance of making sales. That has to be your priority when running a food festival for, it’s for the producers. If organisers can’t do a good job in getting people to their event, then perhaps wag should have a further look at their criteria and highlight this factor as important and give guidelines.

There was a fish preparation area which was a good idea but why, oh why did I find clearly marked packs of DEVON crab at Pembrokeshire Fish Week? For goodness sake does this say to the visitors and local people that Wales has now run out of crab? Or is this just PFW giving another kick in the teeth to our hard-pressed Welsh fishermen. The title Pembrokeshire Fish Week should give us all a clue, but seemingly not the organisers.

Now websites. I’ve already had producer complaints about lists of producers not being available on food festival websites and rightly so. It’s yet another way where organisers are failing producers. Goodness knows when PCC uploaded their list of producers attending but it certainly wasn’t there when I looked on 10/6 and I was told it would be uploaded in a few days. Well I’ve better things to do than keep looking, I would have thought as media it could have been sent to me. It would have been polite and professional for my contact to apologise and say she’s doing that, but seemingly the onus is on me to keep checking their website, presumably because they are so busy ……..and I’m not!!

Eventually I did print off their tradestand list and again I was disappointed with it. The company name was there, phone numbers were there and some website were shown too, but there was no description of was each company did. Another instance of how this festival didn’t seem to be working for the food producers. My list showed me 121 stands and 67 of them appeared to be craft or quango stands. Yet according to another of wag’s criteria:

Welsh Food and Drink producers must form at least 75% of the total exhibitors, with no less than 25 Welsh food and drink producers exhibiting to be eligible for support.

This is another point I shall take up with wag. Milford didn’t feel like a food festival to me, it didn’t look like a food festival to me either but my focus is on our Best Of Welsh & Borders food producers, so here are some of their comments:

·  Pleasant welcome when we got here in dreadful weather.

· There are a lot of craft stands, what have they paid to be here at this food festival?

· I can see stands for guides and all sorts of charities – what have they paid?

· I have no idea why the organisers run the opening day in Milford. It’s not a wealthy area, it’s known as a foodie area either and after running it here for years, it hasn’t improved. It’s the wrong place but no-one in power has realised that.

· I didn’t do well last year; I should have had more sense then to come back. I will not be attending again.

· This event is getting worse rather than better. I did far better at Emlyn last week and it was cheaper too.

· You’ve only to watch the people milling about to see they are not carrying bags at all let alone food bags.

· The layout is always poor here. If wag and supporting this event then it should look like a food festival not a fete, or a fun fair.

· I’ve just done ok, but way down on what I’d expect to take on a one day festival. I hope Lampeter is better than this.

· There’s a lot of litter about although I’ve seen a few guys making an attempt at picking it up. Not enough bins, which is poor. People are lazy can’t walk far to a bin. It’s simple enough, more bins, less litter.

· I can’t stand this noisy entertainment walking about and making it difficult to talk to people. This is not a carnival and they should be on a stage or out of the way. We are here to talk to p[eople and sell.

· Surely in the whole of Pembrokeshire there’s a better site than Milford to run the opening, with a supermarket on the doorstep.

· The market in Haverfordwest has gone down and down. I can’t say that’s happened here, because it’s never been even reasonable here. Pembrokeshire despite having some great producers doesn’t put on good events for us. It’s disappointing and one I’ll not be returning to.

· I came in from Haverfordwest and didn’t see any signs. Never saw a single promotional book about the festival and not sure why they weren’t distributed. Is that a lack nof marketing, I don’t know.

· Who paid for that big posh performance stand at one of the entrances?

· On a personal level, it makes little difference to me if this event was a success or not, apart from the fact that it eats into another precious Saturday, but it does make a heck of a difference to the livelihoods and the future of our Best Of Welsh, BOW, producers. Our BOW producers support us with advertising and I will continue to talk to them listen to them, agree with them sometimes, tell them off at others, but fight their corner so that they get a better deal from festival organisers and from wag. It is though very depressing to walk around a festival and get so much negative feedback from our BOW producers. In a perfect world when I attend a food festival, our producers should all be too busy to talk to me and I should be able to walk around the event in an hour and go home!!!

 

 
 

Contract Quandary For Wag

21 Jun

Apparently one of our local AMs, Elin Jones has been told that small catering firms are being denied the opportunity to bid for government contracts.

The government employs over 270 staff at its regional headquarters at Aberystwyth and issues an all-Wales contract to provide catering services at several of it offices. Well that sounds ok so far but the stumbling block is that a minimum turnover of £2 million per year is a requirement before firms can tender. Well if you live in mid-Wales you’ll not be surprised to learn that there are not many firms that turnover £2m, let alone catering companies! I understood the idea of devolving Welsh Government offices to areas like Aberystwyth was to help local businesses and suppliers. Bearing in mind how expensive it was to re-jig and build new offices, here there and everywhere, not to mention moving staff and paying staff off that refused to moved, what was the point?

Ms. Jones states: “The government’s policy on public-sector procurement should give a fair chance to small and medium sized businesses”.

Well I’m in agreement with her comment, but now I want to know how she intends to stop this unfairness. She challenged Alun Davies, the Minister for Natural resources and Food in the Assembly last week but I have no idea what happens next. Being the government could this be swept under their already lumpy carpet?

 

Why am I bothering blogging this you might ask? Well a couple of reason really, firstly to support our Best Of Welsh producers that are involved in catering, then to raise awareness, but also to rattle the cages of those in power who are more than aware that this blatant unfairness has always gone on. It’s gone on because smaller producers haven’t an official voice like the NFU or FUW and they’re reluctant to challenge the government for risk of being blackballed in the future.

 

It’s a sorry state of affairs, that’s for sure.

 

 

 
 

It’s Fishy

21 Jun

In 2009 I couldn’t understand that Elin Jones, then Minister for Rural Affairs was in Morrisons store, Aberystwyth launching their fresh fish range, which was being supported with a considerable grant from wag. I was puzzled because local Welsh fishermen had been telling me that they were often struggling with supply and of course they can’t fish to order! Supermarket chains, like Morrisons, insist not only for a consistent supply of fish, but they also require particular fish species. There isn’t, and never has been, the consistency of supply of fish from Cardigan Bay that a supermarket the size of Morrisons requires. I’m not a fish expert, and never will be, but I do talk to people on the ground, or in this case, people on the sea, to find out about the problems they face.  I simply couldn’t see this working. Local people and of course I include myself, often struggle to buy local fish because most of the fish taken from Cardigan Bay are sent abroad.

At one meeting I spoke to a person I’ll not name, but who was employed to promote Welsh fish and he said he frequently bought Scottish fish. He’d no problem with that at all – and still he drew his salary, with apparently a clear conscience!

Ms. Jones said that at the time the Welsh Government worked hard with fishermen and the supermarket to make this supply chain work, but the fact is, it isn’t working. Ms. Jones now urges Minister Alun Davies, who is currently responsible for Fisheries, to redouble efforts to sustain the supply of local fish to customers. Well that is something, but my question is, after much government money was put into this scheme, shouldn’t ‘someone’ be responsible for its failure? Additionally shouldn’t that ‘someone’ take the trouble, and I’m sure it would be a trouble, to explain to us taxpayers why it failed? Or maybe because it’s government money being wasted or lost, does it simply get swept once again under wag’s lumpy carpet?

In case you’re unsure why I’m cross about this, it’s because we have quite a few fishermen/women with us as Best Of Welsh & Borders producers. On 9/7/12 after chatting with one of them, I was asked by this fisherman if I would write to Alun Davies, then Deputy Minister, expressing their concern about Marine Conservation Zones and the dramatic damage it will do to the Welsh Fishing industry.

I was happy to help and did so, suggesting an evening meeting, that I’d arrange, with some of BOW fishermen and members of the Cardigan Bay Seaman’s Association to discuss their concerns.

My response some 19 days later – well this is the government and nothing moves quickly there does it?

Dear Keith Rhodes,    Keith?????  – I’ve obviously changed sex!!!

Thank you for your email.

This invitation was passed to John Griffiths AM, Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development by Alun Davies AM as Marine Conservation Zones falls within John Griffiths AM’s portfolio.

Unfortunately, due to pressures on the Minister’s diary the Minister is unable to meet. The Minister has asked me to advise that the Welsh Government, through the Welsh Fishermen’s Association and other local community interests throughout Wales, including Cardigan Bay, is very conscious of the concerns about the highly protected approach and will be taking them fully into account before deciding next steps.

What a pity he hadn’t got the time  to meet the fishermen who are trying to earn a living from our seas.

 
 

Horsemeat-Linked Company Closes Its Doors

18 Jun

A mid-Wales meat company which was implicated in the horsemeat scandal has entered administration and closed its doors.

Operations at Farmbox Meats were suspending on 12 February by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) as part of its investigation into the mislabelling of meat products. The FSA lifted the suspension in March and the business was allowed to operate under conditional approval which expired on 5 April. Approval to operate was refused by the FSA in April and the agency said Farmbox Meats initially looked to appeal this decision, but has subsequently decided to withdraw it.

On 6th June, Leonard Curtis Recovery administrators were appointed to Farmbox Meats Ltd of Tynparc, Llandre, Bow Street, Ceredigion.

 

 
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Newcastle Emlyn Food Festival

17 Jun

Running now for the third year, this is the nearest festival to Ian and I and had to push ourselves to get there by early afternoon after a morning meeting. I have been constructively critical of this festival over the last couple of years, and one of my grumbles was lack of banners, but I was pleased to see that banners were out very early indeed, at least a month or more before the event. That was a great start. I’d like to see more banners out of course, the more visitors attending the better for everyone. I was also pleased that part of the town, around the Clock tower wasn’t closed this year, as those retailers didn’t take stands at the festival but kept their shops open instead. Great news that the organisers have knocked that one on the head as visitors into the town want to see all shops open, not sections of it closed. I spent so long chatting that I didn’t have time to walk through the town and see if shops have joined in the festival spirit, or if there was a competition for the best dressed festival window, but if not maybe those ideas that might work in the future.

More good news with last year’s previous two smaller marquees had been ditched in favour of one large one and this worked so much better. It created a much livelier atmosphere. I missed Alan from Welsh Brew tea and one of our good coffee guys because it is handy to have tea and coffee inside the marquee, especially for producers running stand on their own, regular drinks are vital for those of us that talk too much!  The organisers had also sited the marquee to where I think was a better drained part of the field, because yet again this festival was blighted by rain on and off, with the week leading up to the Saturday virtually wet and windy every day. That was rotten as the previous week had been warm and sunny, but as one canny producer said to me, “it worked out for the best for us traders as it was too cold for people to head for the beach and once the rain started, people headed into the marquee for shelter and shopped!” I have to say that it’s only the second festival I’ve done this year when I couldn’t find a sulky or a grumpy producer in the food marquee – yippee!!!!

Some bad news though which was poor feedback from the producers outside in individual tents with food-to-go. They suffered dreadfully with the weather and had a disappointing day. I appreciate it’s an additional expense, but a 3-sided tent with some tables and chairs inside would I think given them a better chance. Standing out in the rain whilst your burger or whatever is cooking, is unpleasant. Adults, if pushed will walk around munching a burger, but if there are families with children or elderly parents, it really doesn’t work at all. Ideally it would be wonderful if a local sponsor could be found to give this idea a try. I understand that there are not that many medium/large companies in the area, but maybe some arm twisting is needed here!!!!

I always recommend inviting school children to provide some entertainment at a festival and the Emlyn organisers did a great job of doing just that. They’d planned plenty of family entertainment, much of it involving local school children, which meant a captive audience of mums, dads, grannies, granddads, aunts and uncles, no wonder so many producers were smiling. Another area where the organisers scored well was not having too many stands selling the same or similar products. Often at a festival you’ll get four cheeses producers, six jam/chutney makers, five beer companies etc, which is alright if you’ve literally thousands and thousands of people coming in. But if the festival can’t attract high attendance figures, and many can’t, then the organisers must be constantly aware that the producers who have paid to be there, must sell to make their money and they can’t achieve that with a low visitor turnout and lots of competitors selling the same products. We had lots of our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers in attendance and I know I can rely on them for accurate feedback, so I’m pleased to report a good event, despite the weather not really working with them in the week leading up to the big day.

The cookery demo kitchen was in action when I arrived and I was just in time to see the tail end of the demo by chef Gareth Johns from The Wynnstay, Machynlleth. Gareth is one of my favourite chefs, ok he’s not strictly local to Emlyn, but he’s not that far away either! He’s a leading light in the industry, one of our top Welsh chefs who is passionate about the ethos of good, clean and fair food. So much so he’s now a leading light for Slow Food in Wales. I’m was so pleased to hear Gareth say he was using meat from Glam Lamb, a producer at the event, and when I chatted to him later and I mentioned this and he explained his action plan. He said that when he’s invited to cook at any food festival he arrives early to make sure he can walk around the stands and select produce to cook. So I’m back on my soap box again as this is something I’ve been suggesting, but often failing to persuade festivals to do. Maybe I need to take this up officially with wag food to make it another ‘must-do criteria. Other chefs please note, it can be done and it should be done. Actually doing that on the day shows clearly the talent and ability of a chef that can think off the top of his/her head, support producers and then cook tasty dishes in front of an audience. Well done guys!

Chef Ian Williams from the Emlyn Arms, Newcastle Emlyn has to be congratulated for recommending Gareth and local chef Ludo to cook alongside him doing the demos. Chatting to Ian later he said how impressed he’d been with the quality of the food stands at the festival and he agrees with what some top chefs are saying, use the best quality produce and then you don’t really have to do much with it. So it was a thumbs up for the cookery demo area too, especially with their chefs promoting some of the producers. At the end of the day promoting producers, which means our super Welsh food too, is what a food festival is all about, and if it isn’t, then in my view it shouldn’t be running and certainly not being funded.

This festival was funded by wag; they’d asked for £5k but sadly only received £2,955 for reasons best known to wag. I’d love to have been a fly on the wall when that funding meeting took place and I could have heard for myself just why some festivals got what they wanted and others didn’t. Wag and I often have different views on what constitutes a successful festival, but of course I think I’m right as I visit more festivals than their team ever does! Add to that my Best Of Welsh producers to give me their honest views and I do think I’m in touch with what’s happening out there. Thankfully Carmarthenshire County Council helped out along with a few sponsors and there was no gate charge, so that was a huge help to encourage both locals and visitors into the festival.

I didn’t get a press release about this event which is disappointing, especially as wag has that listed on their ‘must-do’ criteria list. If my local paper can do pre-event coverage I assume they’d been sent a press release, but I’m still waiting for mine……

I heard a few grumbles that there weren’t any craft stands. This was not the fault of the festival but a further wag dictat. Another one, I hasten to say I’m not totally in agreement with. My view is that the more things there are to see and do, the longer people will stay, the longer they’ll stay and the higher the chance there is that they will spend more money with our food producers. I’m guessing the reason wag have pooh-poohed craft stands is because wag are putting money in to support food not craft, but surely a compromise could have been found. Couldn’t some craft fair groups have been allowed to ‘hire’ some field space and sort out their own marquee and stands? Just a thought…

As this is one of our local festivals, we do hear feedback from ‘Joe Public’. One comment heard was that the meat did not look fresh! Meat producers please do not go up in arms, I know your meat couldn’t be any fresher, but wanted to pass this on as food for thought. ‘Joe Public’ is sadly a regular supermarket shopper, fooled into the supermarket technique of seductive lighting over meat counters so meat looks bright glossy red.  I feel sorry for ‘Joe Public’ because as an aside, I bought some beef from one of our Best Of Welsh producers at the festival. It had been hung and was  almost black. Ok, I know most people don’t want it this well hung and it is certainly not what the supermarket meat shoppers want, they’d have been horrified. But the taste was wonderful and there was no shrinkage in the oven. There’s obviously an tough education job to do and I’d like to think HCC will take that on board, but I very much doubt it. But this comment that we heard is relevant to all meat producers and independent retailers. There are no quick answers I am afraid, but give me my well hung meat any day; it was a super Sunday lunch!

I’m so relieved Newcastle Emlyn made a success of their festival despite the weather trying to work against them. They made huge improvements over the last two years and long may they continue to do so.

 
 

Royal Welsh Food Hall

13 Jun

Year after year the RWAS Food Hall causes more and more problems for our Best Of Welsh & Border producers. A couple of days  ago a producer emailed me saying they’d received an email from wag which I’ve shown in full below. It came through from wag on 11th June:

I hope you are well. During the 2012/13 financial year your company exhibited with the Welsh Government at the Royal Welsh Show 2012 and the Royal Welsh Winter Fair 2012 and as such I would really appreciate if you could provide some feedback on the support received:

1) Please quantify the volume of sales from each show

2) Please quantify your costs for attending each show e.g. staff, travel, accommodation, parking, refrigeration

3) Please give an indication of your net profit / loss at each of the shows

4) Did you trial / launch any new products at the show / exhibition

5) Number of new contacts made / identified at each show

6) Of these contacts how many have since become customers of your company?

7) What is the total financial value of any contracts / contacts made through each of the shows?

8) Any other comments with regards the support received

The feedback required is standard for all Welsh Government trade / consumer support so that we can get a feel for the benefits and also help us to evidence why we should continue to provide trade / consumer support to Welsh food and drink companies. I can confirm that this information will be treated in the utmost confidence and not shared with any third parties without your prior consent. Please could you kindly return the details to me by close of play on Tuesday 18 June to enable me to complete our event review.

Well in my media world, I’m working on my computer for 8-9 hours a day, so when emails come in they are actioned or deleted fairly quickly. But producers, by definition, are either out tending stock or producing their goods, or both, and never more so if they are small producers. Too many of them actually view their computer as a distraction, not a tool of their trade, which in some ways is understandable as many of them have had little, if any, computer training. Now I’m not saying that is a good for their business, far from it, especially when I’d a producer tell me he’d not checked his emails for a month! If wag knew their industry better, they’d be able to take this into account. But realistically it’s wag we are talking about, so that’s unlikely on many counts isn’t it? Wag knowing the industry better is merely a dream of mine, which is likely to remain just that a dream. Plus we are right in the middle of festival season, so surely giving these guys more time would be reasonable. If wag are running late on this and are now under pressure, that’s not the producers problem and in my view 7 days is not reasonable. Why can’t wag do a ring-around the Food Hall producers? I accept that this is a lot more work than sending one mass email, but my point on this is that you stand more chance of the smaller producers answering their phone than an email. I’m certainly not saying go through each question with each of them, as they’d not have that information to hand, but tell them you’ve sent an email through and why you need this information so urgently.

Now my next question is, do companies wish to reveal all? Do they wish to honest with wag? If they say they’ve had two bad shows, will wag take the opportunity to throw the producers out of the RWAS for good? Do they give false figures to ensure that funding remains and that they remain with a stand?

There is no legal accountancy reason for the producers to keep these figures, but good management would mean that they should have that information. But has the system changed? Are the producers no longer asked at the end of each event to complete a questionnaire? I’m sure that is still the case, so why are these questions being asked by wag once again? Why are wag asking for this year only? Why are the questions only related to financials and nothing to do with PR? Is this because wag food seems to pay scant regard to PR?

I think the Food Festival funding has come from the Supply Chain Efficiencies Scheme budget and was for £1.58m over the period 2008 to 2012, but again not sure. Another ‘think’ is that the money for food festivals was £1.5m, but which food budget/s the RWAS come out of is still a mystery. I’m still not totally convinced how will wag use this information will be used for, but then I’m a cynical jounralist. So what does wag then do with this information? Who sees it? Is it used as fodder for future applications? Wag is taking for granted that food producers will trust them with their confidential business figures, but fail to give producers the courtesy of explaining precisely why this information is needed. Food producers are rarely able to trust WAG and they no longer expect wag to be open in any sense of the word.

One of my concerns is that there is little, if any, comeback for our producers if they are thrown out of the Food Hall. Sure they  can ring Fernleigh and ask why, and then be fobbed off with the well-used – ‘we are over subscribed’, so really they are wasting their time. The producers I’ve spoken to are running scared that this will happen to them next year if they have the nerve to complain at all to Fernleigh. Or if they fall foul of wag or Fernleigh. I thought the era of bullying in the food department was over, but it appears not. I wish there was a better system in operation for the RWAS, I’ve certainly moaned about it long enough to give myself an ongoing headache, so I’m certainly not holding my breath on this one.

Time for change in wag food was years ago, but sadly it has yet to happen, if it ever will. …………………….

 
 

Hybu Cig Cymru & PGI, Protected Geographical Indication

12 Jun

 

I have taken HCC to task on many occasions, but most certainly on their weak promotion of PGI, which is Protected Geographical Indication.  Some time ago, HCC ran a national advertising campaign showing the PGI logo, but my issue with them was who knew what that logo meant? Obviously their national advertising campaign was aimed at Joe Public, but I felt, as I still do very strongly, that readers across the UK would be clueless, should they even read the advert and know what the logo meant.

But I was further annoyed this morning when Ian told me he’d been talking to a Welsh butcher, who in welshfoodbites tradtion will be nameless, who had no idea what PGI meant – can you believe that? But deviating ever so slightly, I’ve asked HCC to supply me with a list of butchers in Wales, but they were unable to do so. With further prompting, HCC informed me that butchers have to tell HCC they exist and are trading, but even when this happens I’m told by butchers they still do not get the promtional material that HCC shout that they deliver. Perhaps this particular butcher is just another one that has fallen through HCC’s wide-holed net, so why would he know nothing about PGI, but it’s also not very helpful is it? I felt that I was wasting my time complaining to HCC about my view that Joe Public has no idea what PGI is all about then, so you’ll surely understand how I’m feeling about a Welsh butcher knowing nothing about PGI………………..

Actually Welsh Country magazine, with a very strong local food flavour, well about 10 pages of it, I am wondering how many of our passionate foodie readers would know what PGI means, I’m guessing not a lot of them.

Apparently Welsh lamb and beef were given PGI status by the European Commission in July 2003 and November 2002 respectively, however it is only of late that we some of us have heard much about it.  The main requirements of PGI Welsh lamb and PGI Welsh beef are that animals must be: born and reared in Wales; fully traceable; and slaughtered and processed in an HCC approved abattoir/cutting plant.

I’m rather disappointed that in this PGI saga, that seemingly nothing has improved, certainly for our side.

WCM has quite a few Welsh butchers supporting us on our Best Of Welsh & Borders listing so please don’t expect me to stop working or fighting on their behalf. But I do find it annoying that HCC and WCM cannot work together and help the people that matter, our brilliant butchers and marvellous meat producers. Instead HCC seemed focused on the overseas markets, which is fine, but it not their sole reason for being or their sole reason for getting funding.

 
 

Port Talbot Food Festival

10 Jun

Ian and I  didn’t attend this festival, but this monring we’ve had some strong feedback through, sad to say it was not good. It took place at the Aberafan Shopping Centre on Friday and Saturday 7th & 8th June. I am so disappointed that I didn’t get a press release about this festival. I’ve no idea why not, maybe the organisers are still not aware Welsh Country magazine does a lot of food in every single issue!! However this festival was not funded by wag.

I found out indirectly that this festival was happening and very kindly sent it around our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers, but  with a statement that we were not recommending this event and had no idea if it was worth attending or not. Thanks goodness we sent it out with that caveat, as feedback to date has been so poor.

So bearing in mind I was not there to see for myself, I’ve been told that there were about thirty stalls, 6- or 7 selling booze, a couple doing ice-creams and then lots of stands pushing jams and preserves. There was also a cookery demonstration area, but a producer told me one cook was doing brioche….. I’m not sure what logic was working here, if any was, but was that a good recipe for this audience? Shouldn’t demos be targeted for each market? Was brioche using produce from the producers who the organiser’s had charged to be there? I really do think it is about time that if cookery demos, which are being pushed so hard by wag, that the producers attending are used, to their advantage. Plan ahead, use their produce, give them a decent plug, give them a copy of the recipe shown to take home. As a general comment, instead of paying top dollar for celebrity chefs, use local chefs or get some of the producers to do a demo. Many producers are so good at demos and of course so passionate about their produce which certainly comes through. Not to mention how much it generates interest in their stand and sales to, naturally.

Actually I was pleased I didn’t bother going, more so when I heard that parking was £1.00 an hour! How can that encourage people to meander around at their leisure when they have a £1 an hour charge ticking away in their head?

I’m so disappointed to hear that another food festival has not gone well. Obviously I can’t pinpoint any specific holes with not being there, but would I have attended if I’d received a press release? Well who knows………….

 
 

Food Hygiene Rating Regulations – Scores On The Doors

06 Jun

One of the many perks of joining the Best Of Welsh & Borders producers is that we try and keep producers updated with food news, views and of course gossip. So this week we emailed around to all BOW the following: Food Hygiene Rating (Wales) Regulations 2013

The consultation document asks for comments on regulations which set out the detail of the statutory Food Hygiene Rating Scheme. Consultation period: 27/03/2013 – 21/06/2013

We wanted our producers, who are the people on the front line that are affected by wag’s latest food brainstorm, to have a chance to raise their feelings on the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme.

Delighted to get some feedback from our BOW and this is a short summary, no producers will be mentioned as that is the whole point of welshfoodbites, you can air your views, you can rant and rave, you can also praise too, but all your comments are confidential. I don’t care if we have hundreds who wish to be known as producer or trader that is fine. It is your opinions that are needed because as we are finding so many of you are thinking the same, but many of you are afraid to air your views officially through wag or food organisers because of repercussions. Well I hope I’ve taken that fear away from you and can assure you that the only people getting the backlash from wag are Welsh Country.

Anyway back to food hygiene. The concern amongst our BOW is that the information given to the consumer, our general public regarding the Food Hygiene Rating, is misleading. Let me explain, if you asked the man/woman in the high street, what do they believe ‘hygiene’ means, I am convinced that most of them would state ‘cleanliness’ as the obvious reply, that’s the first thing that comes into their minds. However the rating is not only about cleanliness, it is very much about completing the necessary paperwork demanded by the Agency.

All business’ have a responsibility to ensure that the produce which they are selling is safe to eat and, that all aspects of safety are strictly adhered to. There should be the necessary paperwork to complete, but the consumer should be made aware that in addition to cleanliness, the necessary paperwork has to be undertaken and it is the paperwork that is the major part of the scoring. One producer was told by an environmental health officer that even if a business was spotlessly clean and showing care, if the SFBB booklet had not been completed, then that business would only receive a rating of 1. Now I you’d think this hard to believe, wouldn’t you? But when I hear this same tale many times I am horrified. Plus I’m hearing tales that Environmental Health standards between our counties makes this far from a level playing field for our BOW to operate on and if the general pubic knew what has happening they would also have no faith in this scheme.

Of course paperwork has to be part of the rating, in order to prove to the various bodies that the regulations are being adhered to. However it is very important that full information be given to the consumer of what the rating entails, at the present time I do not believe that this is happening and I’m so cross that wag come up with an idea but somehow fail to think it through fully, from all angles.