Archive for December, 2013

Winter Fair

03 Dec

Ian and I were both invited to the Winter Fair yesterday to hear the Minister of Natural Resources and Food, Alun Davies launch the consultation document, Delivering Growth: An Action Plan for the Food and Drinks Industry 2014-2020. In my head I’d got this as a press conference but when I arrived, the great and the good were in attendance along with some press, it was just disappointing to see so many people who were not wearing name badges, including some wag people too. Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, oh surely not, but I thought it was still good business practice to do so. I spoke to too many people yesterday that hadn’t even a business card………..!!

I’m grateful to two Assembly Members, Simon Thomas and William Powell who both took the trouble to also make sure I’d got a copy. Many thanks guys.

Here, in full is the Ministers’ statement:

Welsh Food And Drink Action Plan Launched

New plans that will deliver growth and jobs in the food and farming sector and increase the profile and reputation of Welsh food have been launched today by Minister for Natural Resources and Food, Alun Davies.

The Minister was at the Winter Fair to launch an action plan aimed at delivering a 30% increase in turnover in the Welsh food and drinks sector by 2020.

Speaking about the plan, Alun Davies said:

“I want to set a clear direction and agree actions so that Government and industry can work together to deliver growth in the Welsh food and drinks sector.

“Food production is so important and has an impact on nearly every element of our lives. It affects our economy, our climate, our diet and health, our education and ability to learn, and there is no doubt that it is a major part of our culture and tourism offer.

“We have designed this plan to ensure that Wales’ food industry reaches its full potential. That is why it includes a particular focus on delivering green growth and creating jobs throughout the food chain.

“We already have a good story to tell on food and drink, with Wales having seen a 6% growth in food and drinks sales last year and a combined turnover for agriculture, fishing and food manufacture of over £5.2 billion, however we can and must do more.

“I want our final action plan to set out ambitious but achievable targets and allow us to easily measure our performance against them.” 

Delivering Growth: An action plan for the Food and Drinks Industry includes three central themes for developing growth in the food and drinks sector. These are:

·       Forming a Food and Drinks Federation to offer leadership to the sector (something like the Dairy Task Force or Retail Forum)

·       Developing a new identity for Welsh food and drink that will support trade and market development

·       Focusing on training and up-skilling throughout the food chain.

The Welsh Government is already working closely with the largest food and drinks businesses in Wales to better understand their plans and potential for growth. Under the action plan it will also work more closely with small and medium sized enterprises and microbusinesses to help them understand the business support available to them and encourage growth.

Under the plan the Welsh Government will also seek to make Wales the first choice for international food companies’ manufacturing and processing operations.

The Welsh Government is consulting on its Action plan for the Food and Drinks Industry. The full document is available on the Welsh Government website and interested parties have until 3 March 2014 to respond.

The Minister intends to publish the final plan in spring 2014.

This statement is being sent around our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers, (BOW), not to play secretary or distribution manager for the Minister and wag food, but to make sure that all those involved in food, be they producers, chefs, hoteliers, accommodation providers I do this so that they are kept up-to-date for something that is so important for the future of their businesses.

One of our BOW did browse briefly through the report yesterday and gave me the following feedback: I’ve read many government reports over the years and I do have to say that this is more readable than most. Some sections I do not agree with, but I shall most certainly give them my views before 3rd March 2014.

I’ve not had time to read it as yet but I too will certainly pout my views forward, and I am aware I wasted time and money doing this last time and they were ignored, I and many others, were adamant that wag food could not do a 10 year food policy, which has now been proved correct, but instead of crowing, I just despair of the state of food and drink in Wales, pity so far I can’t share the Minister’s optimism. What’s also annoyed me is that 4 meetings have already been arranged and assume that’s it but these are held in Aberystwyth, Cardiff of course, and what seems to be one of wag foods favourite venues, the glass house commonly known as Botanic Gardens. For those of you in the north your only option is Llandudno Junction.  Well it must have been difficult for wag food to have had to arrange four meetings, bearing in mind last weeks’ meeting in Pembrokeshire was pretty pointless, but I do think it shows clearly once again those that get paid every month and those that will be able to claim travelling expenses apart from the two out of four that are already held in government offices! I spoke to a few people yesterday that are lucky enough to be paid monthly and despite my efforts I don’t think they understood the difference between us. They just wanted a chat, to pick my/our brains, not getting that Ian and I were there to work. But if they wanted a consultation, we can do that, which will be followed by an invoice…………………..

I’ve quickly scanned a Priority 3 – Climate Change – and although I can see it’s a Welsh Government challenge I cannot see how in the big scheme of things, with the massive problems producers still, that climate change will ever be a priority when most producers are struggling to distribute their goods, without the worry of Welsh farmers markets and festivals.

I can only urge, beg and plead with you all to send in your views. It’s really getting pointless for me to try to put your grumbles and grievances forward to wag food. I would certainly have quizzed the Minister on Monday if the Minister had done us the courtesy of saying he’d take any questions. But the last time I did an interview with him he said he didn’t get complaints from food producers only from farmers. My response to that is to make yourself as freely available to food producers as you do to farmers and their Unions, the NFU and FUW. However the Minister did say that the role of government is to support, it’s the government’s job to listen……………………….

I’d also love to know how many food stands he went to talk to in the food hall. According to my count there were 45 stands, in fact I ask the same question of all those who where there yesterday from the food policy team and wag food department. But just in case you are interested – Ian and I covered the lot and that was excluding our food shopping! It’s one on our rules that unless a food producer is with us on BOW we can’t purchase from them. So it was a brilliant bonus to have so many BOW there, especially when we don’t see some of them that often, I literally BOW food shop until I dropped. There were so many rumours going around the food hall, too many to cover here, including why was the former Head of Food spending so much time in the there. I don’t like the food hall; it’s as simple as that it’s a barn of a place with no atmosphere at all. The producers are restricted so much in what the can sell, no alcohol to drink there and then, no hot food over a couple of pounds. Nowhere for people to sit unless you were that tired you wanted to watch a cookery demo – bearing in mind the TV screen and overhead camera weren’t working when I stopped by. But there again that is obviously not what it wanted by RWAS and wag food. I’d always thought of this new expensive food hall as there to really showcase Welsh food and to tempt the Welsh public into buying their wares, not just on the days but where they can buy locally. But not for the first time I’m singing off my own hymn sheet – but over the last nine years ‘twas ever thus with wag food.

There were some superb stands in the food hall, not just on the quality of produce but the effort that had been put into their Christmas gift packaging and the decorations. Hours and hours of extra work and do wag food do a best trade stand? Well not as far as I know, but I do ask why not?  If only there was someone in wag food on my wavelength……….. I only I did spend so much of my time having to tell them where they are going wrong and why few producers have any faith in them.

So as I dislike the food hall that much and that’s before I even start on the high tradestand prices, how difficult it is for producers to get their goods in, parking for some of them, my latest ploy was to suggest some try the farmers’ market held outside the Members building. I wasn’t over struck on it last year and please don’t sigh and say I’m never satisfied, unless someone keeps pushing and raising standards, NOTHING will ever improve. So happy to play secretary to our BOW, we again circulated details of this market to all our producers, knowing it would help quite a few of them, and quite a few took it up. The layout was better this year just one straight run, there was some signage there, but not enough for me, but I do appreciate that RWAS are not the easiest to deal with, in fact, most of the time, they are impossible. But that’s who RWAS are. RWAS can do their own thing, as they answer only to themselves. One company selling pasties, Little Welsh Deli, wasn’t allowed to sell hot pasties, only cold. Can you believe that? I was on owner Ryan’s stand and he was asked three times – just whilst I was there, for warm pasties but had to say no and those people walked away grumbling about how stupid it was and I totally agree. Every market and festival I’ve seen Little Welsh Deli at they do hot food and they do samples of pasties as tasters to tempt the public, but not ‘allowed’ at the Winter Fair. Why? I believe that the RWAS get paid a fortune for the concession vans that are all over the showground and it is those traders that don’t want anyone else to sell hot food. How pathetic is that? At somewhere like the RWAS, you’ll have masses and masses of people all day long that don’t care about what they eat as long as they eat something – fair enough let them get on with it. But I want the Royal Welsh to offer local people and our visitors, and we are talking a minority here, those who want quality Welsh food, the chance to buy it and eat it there. Why does the RWAS insist on strangling our food producers and farmers, who only want to make a reasonable living?


British Cheese Awards

03 Dec

Although I’ve already posted about this I thought I’d send you the latest news whilst we wait for Cardiff to respond as to why it is not being held there again. I’ve no idea what’s happened but it has and if further news comes through I’ll let you now.

The British Cheese Awards [BCA] and the Royal Bath & West Show have joined forces. With the impressive number of traditional cheeses in the Royal Bath & West combined with nearly 75% of all British cheesemakers entered in the BCA, together they will become the biggest competition for British cheese and a powerful marketing tool for British cheesemakers.
Plus there will be a special award for the best traditional cloth bound cheese to recognise and encourage this traditional skill and expand classes for Butter,  plain Yoghurt, Crème Fraiche.

The British Cheese Awards judging system that awards any number of Gold, Silver, Bronze medals per class rather than 1st, 2nd, 3rd, will remain the same and I will remain chief judge until the team at Bath & West are fully conversant with the BCA judging system.

It will be a great platform for British cheese and enable me to spend more time doing what I love and do best – educating, training and inspiring people to eat more cheese.   Looking forward to seeing many of you at the show, please share the news with your suppliers, wholesalers and customers and keep using the medals – they will help you sell more cheese and raise the profile of British cheese.

Date & Venue for 2014 – Tuesday 27th May, Shepton Mallet Showground


Uplands Market, Swansea

03 Dec

I’ve been told so much about this market and for once, believe it or not, the news was good and from many sources too – if you discount the fact that they were all from our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers. The news I’ve been getting for the past three years, despite fork2fork’s £800k pay cheque for a two year campaign has been nothing but disheartening. Even previously reasonable to good markets have seen a depressing downturn of trade. Fork2fork have a lot to answer for in my view as far as markets are concerned, but so have wag. Wag can’t just hand over £800k – plus another £100k for this year and then opt out apart from their ‘religion’ of ticking boxes. I’d like to see questions answered about such a failure, but that’s as likely to happen; now the relevant boxes have been ticked, as me being elected President of the USA!!!! Yes it is that far-fetched.

Anyway back to my Swansea story, I’d been pestered so much to visit that last Saturday Ian and I did just that and you’ll be delighted to hear that it was one of the best markets I’ve attended for literally years, yes years. One street had been officially closed off to house the stalls and there were large clear notices as you were coming into Uplands about the market and the street closure. The only problem we did have was parking, but patience and scouting the side streets   paid–off. First stop was a coffee in one of the very busy independent shops approaching the market and the service and quality was a great start. Then onto the market and it was busy, not just numbers of people, but people actually purchasing from the good variety of food and drink stalls with some good quality craft stalls interspersed between them. Obviously with parking an issue, I’m guessing the visitors were mainly local but you’d all age groups there families to grannies and granddads to groups of friends enjoying the buzz of Christmas shopping. It took us ages to get around the market as we stopped to talk to some of our producers if they’d got time to chat. Uplands had even got live music going and they were brilliant. A group called Fiddlesticks playing violins to cellos with players’ ages ranging from possibly 7 or 8 – 60+. It really gave the market a marvellous atmosphere.

Now the final surprise for me was to see a stand that was actually run by the local councillors and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to quiz one of them, John Bayliss as to how their market was buzzing when others in Wales were not. John is one of 4 councillors representing Uplands and between them they have got behind this market, with all of them on hand, from the supervising of setting up, during and the breaking down. What a brilliant idea, as the councillors were there during market opening hours to answer questions and queries from the people of Uplands. No way has this been easy for them and I heard again the scenario of market organisers putting up their signs and then the council following behind taking them down!! Co-operation, communication I could go on, but sure you too have heard it before, and not just from me!!!! John and his fellows have had many battles with Swansea bureaucracy but they now found a way to work together for the benefit in this case of Uplands market. So I’m pleased, but to my simple mind this is what Swansea council as a whole should be doing anyway not creating an internal battlefield to the detriment of Uplands.

There is no need for this pathetic Council red tape which I hear from many Farmers’ Markets when all they are trying to do is sell Welsh food and drink. But this is a market in the old fashioned sense of the word with a cross section of products, food and non food.  I appreciate it is difficult for wag food as they cannot be seen to support non food, so as I’m assuming wag food will be of no assistance then I can only suggest market organisers contact ALL their Assembly Members, including Labour ones and get them to ask questions and make a fuss. It’s a tactic I’ve resorted to because I too am fed-up of battling or as I call it knocking my head against the wag and council brick walls.

One has to ask the question if local Welsh food is being sold at a market such as this with success then this model needs to be copied and both councils and wag to change their criteria for help. Surely if businesses are doing well, whether their products are food or non food, that’s more important for local councils and wag. Also help from these bodies does not necessarily mean a monetary hand out, but cooperation about such things as road closures, banners, publicity and logical, but good environmental health.

I really have enjoyed putting up a cheery post for a change.