Posts Tagged ‘craft stands’

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.


Llandysul – Food Festival Or A Town Fête?

27 Jun

It was mid afternoon when I called into to this festival and must say I hadn’t realised it was due to close at 4.00pm. Which if you’re paying for stand and only allowed to trade from 11.00 until 4.00pm, those hours are akin to a farmers’ market but with stand prices that are usually much higher. My question as to whether this is a food festival or a town fete is that there were about 23 craft and school stands and about 22 food stands. I have so many complaints and anger from food festival organisers following Wag ‘s criteria that food will be the core activity to receive funding, yet we are only part way through the festival season and there are already far too many anomalies or festivals which Wag have allowed to slip through their very own net. Wag you are aware this situation is not acceptable, but the question is still outstanding as just what you are going to do about it and when?  

Anyway back to the festival, I started my walk around at 3.00 which was not a good move, as stands had not only packed up by then, but a few had actually left. There were bare empty tables with still an hour to go. So who allowed ‘traders’ to disappear before the event officially closed? One of the schools had a huge run of tentage with what appeared to be a pupil painting display, but this was also cleared and away by 3.15pm – why? 

I’m sorry guys, I just don’t get this. You have professional traders, struggling, yes struggling to make a living, and you have an abundance of amateur/charity stalls that seem to throw in the towel when the day is just too much, or too long for them – why? I went into the cookery demonstration area which was busy, whether it was the inclement weather or the draw of the chefs, I’m not sure, but busy is good. I was puzzled though to see in a corner of the marquee, a tea/coffee/cake stall which I think was run by one of the schools, was this a paid-for stand? My concern, as always was with the professionals, in this instance, Preseli Coffee, which I do confess a huge bias to, as in my view they have the best coffee on the circuit. The Coffee Box was also on site, again selling hot drinks. Popty Bach Y Wlad, Orgranics and Llandysul Country Market all had an impressive stands, with scrummy cakes and biscuits etc. and sadly they’d lots of stock left. Preseli Coffee had no idea this festival was running and were only approached by the Llandysul team at the Newcastle Emlyn festival the week before. I must ask Preseli next time I see them, were they told a stand would be set up in the demo area and that Coffee box was also attending? You simply cannot ignore the hard, cold fact that these people need to sell to exist. The producers will rightly’ blame you if you haven’t got huge numbers of people through, haven’t got a good mix of traders, haven’t planned a packed day to keep people there, and before you think that traders are never happy, remember that guys depend on sales not to holiday in the Bahamas but to keep their businesses afloat. If it’s difficult to understand what the producers need then ask a couple of them if they’ll come on your committee and give a few hours of their time and expertise to raise the standard.         

In my ideal food festival world, the focus would be on food and on the food producers. In my ideal food festival world there would be a covered area for visitors to buy produce from the producers and sit, eat, drink and chat with their friends and family. In fairness Llandysul had got chairs set out by the podium, but these were being cleared away whilst I walked around. But it does show that my idea food festival world is a long way off ……………………….

This festival did put the spotlight on the cookery demonstrations, but I was sad to chat to a couple who had left the demo because it was only being conducted in Welsh. Wag has decreed that all printed matter and websites must be bi-lingual, but have they made a ruling on cookery demos?

I’m not sure what happened at Llandysul, but another of my soap-box issues is that all cookery demos should use produce from the producers at the event. This suggestion is not only logical, it’s also fair. Food festivals, especially those that are being funded by Wag, as this one was to the tune of £9k, has to support Welsh producers, but generally some organisers are losing the food focus and this cannot continue.

My view is that this event was successful as a fete, but not really working as a food festival. The majority of traders didn’t have a good day; although I do appreciate the weather was not on your side as it would have been on Sunday. I am aware that you had tried hard to get in a good mix of producers, but as your date clashes with Hay On Wye, which is another Wag funded festival but not receiving anywhere near as much as Llandysul, it was not going to be an easy task. Producers do talk about the number of visitors through each event and you are just not getting enough onto the field. I have no idea about how you arrange you marketing and advertising perhaps you focus is too local, but I have said that I haven’t received a press release from Llandysul festival. But Llandysul is far from alone in ignoring press releases as a form of communication. Of the 31 festivals Wag is supporting this year, I will be surprised if I get a Press Release from 10 of them, and if any are advertising with us, my team will have pushed for Press Releases so we can give them more publicity.

I got complaints from producers who didn’t know that they had been judged for the ‘Best Stand’ and also didn’t know who had won it! I have no idea who took on the judging, but if they didn’t make themselves known to each stall, is there any point doing it? Surely the traders of all people should know what’s going on. shouldn’t they? Traders also complained to me that they couldn’t even find their way to the festival because there were very few signs out. I only saw two, which is just not good enough the whole area around the town should have been blitzed with banners.

I was told a Wag official visited in the morning, but it would be interesteing to know whether this was just a box-ticking excercise  or whether our notes actually agreed on anything!!!


Llyn Land & Seafood Festival 28th & 29th May

31 May

 It’s some years since I travelled north to Pwllheli to check out this festival, but despite a poor weather forecast I went there on Sunday.

There were a few AA signs driving into Pwllheli which was an improvement on my last visit, but of course more would have been much helpful in attracting even greater numbers of people to visit the Marina. My concern is swelling those visitor numbers and not just relying on locals who should know about the festival and where it is being held.

There were 24 food stands there on Sunday, including a bread man who wasn’t there on Saturday as he was busy doing a market and I spotted 5 True Taste winners too. The traders I spoke to were pleased with the event and had done reasonably well, so that was so good to hear. James from Ralph’s Cider had a good time too and had lots of people not just sampling, but purchasing too and appreciating what good cider and perry this company produces. 

I did wonder whether a £3.00 entrance fee would put people off. Possibly it’s just me that’s anti entrance fees, because the only real freebie was the cookery demos, so I’d love to hear your view on entrance fees. Two adults paying £6.00 to go in, or an extra £6.00 in their pocket to buy ice-creams, jams, chutney, cider etc. it is after all the traders that really need those sales and no more so than in this difficult trading time when everyone is looking for value-for-money and quality food too.   

A good attraction was a paid-for face painting for the kids, that was very popular with people patiently queuing for their child to be transformed into lions, tigers or fairies – that was great fun for them.  There was a cookery demo area too, but when I was wandering around it was used between demos with some musical entertainment, which was a good use of time and space.

It never ceases to amaze me though why traders will go to festivals and markets without business cards or any literature. PR & Marketing is an important part of any business and that does include food too. Come on guys, do the job properly!

I understand that Wag don’t want craft stands at their food events, I await official confirmation on this and so have no idea on their reasoning for this decision, unless they think that Wag are therefore subsidising the crafters. But if that’s the case what’s their view on the non-food stands that were at this festival: the county council, air ambulance, coastguard, coleg menai, and the pharmacy? Are charities excused, or are they looked at being subsidised or simply adding the the event? My view is that some quality craft stands do add to a food event and the longer the people stay there on site, browsing, chatting, eating and drinking, the better.

There was another tented area along with the food marquee that had tables, chairs and food and drink available. I think this was provided by the Sailing Club which was next door and in my view it was just a pity that it couldn’t have been worked to help the producers who had paid and travelled to attend. I’m not saying that this would be easy to arrange, but surely it’s something that is worth looking at for the future. My other huge disappointment was that though this event is titled as a land and seafood fest, there was only one fresh fish stand and one smoked fish stand. I’m not sure what happened to all the other fish producers, where were they? I certainly expected to see many more, especially as this event was situated just by the sea.