Posts Tagged ‘food producers’

Surveys – Who Believes The Figures?

29 Sep

Journalists are allowed to be cynical, that’s how we are trained and surveys always bring cynicism to the fore. Over recent years we had companies reviewing Welsh food festivals, the reason for this is to tick boxes for Europe so further funding can be gained. I struggle to believe the numbers that are put out and how much supposedly food producers are taking at each festival. If the figures were accurate or very near the truth, I wouldn’t have as many food producers telling me that they are still worried about the future of their businesses and that their expansion plans were being put on the back burner. Recently one AM was on social media saying food festivals in north Wales brought in £16m to the economy. Of course £16m million into north Wales, can only be good news, but what I’m curious about is how is that figure is arrived at? How accurate is it?

Last year we had Wavehill doing a food festival review and I was told it was being completed by telephone and from food festival organiser’s paperwork. Wag food asked me to do a telephone interview with Wavehill:  As you have considerable experience in this area but I declined, for two main reasons. Firstly there was no payment and secondly that I had no idea how my input would be used or no control over it. I’m afraid that didn’t go down too well with wag food but then I was inadvertently copied in an email that went around wag food hierarchy saying:  if KR refuses to be interviewed without a consultation fee, and subsequently slates the final review, these can be referred to. 

My subsequent complaint did eventually get an apology saying that the civil servants’ email: do not reflect the views of Welsh government and the Food division and we are sorry if they have caused any offence. Offended, I certainly was, it is my choice but don’t reflect the views of wag and wag food? That can’t be true. I’ve not met, or spoken to this civil servant, so where do these views come from if not from wag food? I’m not obliged to do more work for wag food without a fee, I’m sure this civil servant doesn’t work for wag food for free, so why should I? I have little knowledge of Wavehill and would have had no control at all of their report, so how could I feel comfortable doing that?

I’ve recently noticed a festival using their part of the Wavehill report and quoting percentages, saying that over half their visitors weren’t local, plus the percentage that came from outside Wales and a spend figure from non-local visitors. But how can these figure be arrived at and be accurate? If the survey talked to every person attending, which is impossible, people still don’t tell the truth, it’s human nature isn’t it? But the reality is that this seems to be a sample of people that are ‘talked’ to and figures are then extrapolated.

I’m no longer reviewing festivals on welshfoodbites, as I’ve no wish to assist whichever company is doing wag foods’ evaluation. I’m also not naming, and certainly not knocking this festival, because they continue to do a good job year after year. How do I know they are doing a good job? Well that’s an easy question to answer, because I’ve been attending this festival for the last nine years. At each festival I attend, I actually talk to our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers, BOW, that attend and because they trust me, they tell me their views, what works well and what needs improving, if anything. Our BOW producers tell it to me as it is; they know it will not go any further unless they need my help with anything. But there’s nothing better than attending a festival where we have plenty of BOW producers in attendance and they are happy!!!

Some time ago I had a press release from a food festival saying they had 10,000 people through, which sounds good unless you are aware this festival is free to attend so there’s no way to do a visitor count and also impossible in my view that the town concerned could park 3,000 cars, let alone 5,000 cars. So apologies for my cynicism remaining intact.

I’d be really interested in your views on surveys and reports. Of course we must always bear in mind that box-ticking exercises are obligatory for wag to get further funding from Europe, wag cannot avoid that, but our Welsh food and drink producers and festival organisers need help and support that goes beyond box-ticking!


Rural Hero Of Wales – Countryside Alliance Award

24 Dec

Well what a surprise – I’ve been nominated for a Countryside Alliance Award, A Rural Hero Of Wales. Although I’ve been nominated once before, it is thrilling to be nominated once again this year, but I’ve certainly never thought of myself as a rural hero, rural pest or rural nuisance, but never a hero!
Last week I was informed that ‘several impassioned nominations’ had been received by the Countryside Alliance, ‘about the hard work I’ve put into promoting Welsh produce, and the tough questions that I’m not afraid to ask of Welsh politicians.’ The Countryside Alliance are ‘keen to show their support for the incredible work I am doing and would like to honour me as a Rural Hero of Wales’. I’m relieved I was not judged on the quality, or not, of the responses I’ve received!
The Rural Hero Award is not part of the main Countryside Alliance Awards – it is something that they, as judges award only occasionally, and sparingly, to those who they feel are truly exceptional. They do not grant a Rural Hero Award every year. It’s therefore a special Award that the judges feel encompasses the spirit of the Rural Oscars.
So I’m invited to a reception next March in Cardiff and I will be honoured along with Monmouthshire Postmistress Myra Bowen who seems to hold her community together single handed. Well I can’t wait to meet her and find out how she’s managed to motivate her community. Having not named a Rural Hero at Cardiff Bay before, the Countryside Alliance are thrilled to be naming two for 2014 and cannot overstate what a special Award this is, so Myra and I have been very lucky.
There’s further amazement for me as I’ve been told that it’s not just one person who has nominated me, but several. It’s hard to believe that food producers, who I’m guessing they are, can find the time and energy to nominate me when they are working under so much pressure and have such heavy workloads. So far I’ve not been told who these producers are, but have asked and hope it’s not a secret, as I’d certainly like to thank them for taking so much trouble on my behalf.  Welsh food and drink is important to Welsh Country magazine and certainly important to Wales and our food producers need all the support they can get in such tough trading climates.
I’d also like to say that I’m not running solo here at welshfoodbites and at Welsh Country magazine. Ian and I have a very small, but brilliant team who are all as passionate about Welsh food and drink, and our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers, as we are – so this is very much a team effort.


A Further Update On Winter Fair

19 Dec

It goes without saying that Ian and I spent a lot of time in the food hall at the Winter Fair and it was a good opportunity to chat to our Best Of Welsh & Border producers that were there and at the Farmers’ Market.

I was though asked a number of questions that I couldn’t answer and I’ll show a selection:

  • I was asked if the new Head of Food had already left his post.
  • Then another asked who is, and where is the new Head Of Food? Another asked why the new Head of Food wasn’t touring the stands and finding out about them?
  • A further producer asked why the old Head Of Food was spending so much time in the food hall.
  • Some producers were cross to learn that some producers were attending for free. Something that happened at the RWAS too.
  • A question was asked of me why where Puffin Produce again allowed in the food hall to basically do PR. This producer wondered if it was because wag food had funded them rather well.
  • I’d also been told, again by a producer, that 8-9 Wavehill people attended the Hay festival and why was that as he understood Wavehill were doing a telephone survey on food festival funding. Yet another question I couldn’t answer because I’d been told officially that CLES/Wavehill were doing this evaluation through completed paperwork and by telephone. I wondered if this has now changed and asked if the fee for CLES/Wavehill had been increased for this extra work. If not weren’t both these companies being initially overpaid?

I sent this through on 5th December to a wag food official who actually came up to me for a chat at the Winter Fair. I thought I’d made it clear saying that I wasn’t posting these questions on welshfoodbites, thinking it would be helpful to their department to know what the food producers were saying, and annoying for me that I couldn’t answer the, but there we are. The workings of wag food still remain a mystery to me. I really thought that I’d made it crystal clear that my intention was to be helpful, to try and get the Welsh food team to understand what the actual feeling was amongst producers at the Winter Fair. I also stated: that I have to accept that I’m probably wasting yet more of my time being an unpaid wag food spy…………………    

Well wasting my time was the complete understatement of this year – and that is saying something with this department. My questions weren’t answered; instead I received an email saying my questions were being referred to the press office. Well if I thought for a nanno second that the press office would be interested, able or prepared to answer these questions, then I would do what I’m constantly told to do – go through the press office. But as initially these questions were not being published, there didn’t seem to me to be any point – but I’m wrong again!!!!

My email, stating these were sent to the food department to help them, was ignored, no doubt because the food department might still feel they are doing a great job. Which I guess is an easy mistake to make when this department seems incapable of either talking or listening to the food producers they are supposed to be working for. I’m not interested in hearing time and time again that: there is now a new regime in the food department. We want to work with you and get your views. Well that’s rubbish. Firstly this site isn’t all my views it’s from food producers who are with us on Best Of Welsh & Borders and other producers who are happy to talk to us because they know we can be trusted. If wag want to ‘work’ with us why am I still being sent around in circles and no-one wishes to answers my questions? If wag food were doing the job we are paying them for, then I wouldn’t have endless questions directed at me would I? The basic fact is wag food are not trusted by the producers. Wag don’t talk to producers. Wag don’t listen to producers  either or for that matter do they listen to me. If they did I wouldn’t be asking the same questions each and every year.

Anyway by 16th December I’d had no reply, so chased it up to be asked can you clarify what you need this information for?  Having nothing else to do, apart from a looming press date, I replied and explained once again.

To be then asked: can you please tell me whether you need this information for the magazine or the website, or whether this is only an information gathering exercise?

I’ve also asked by a further email why the Head of Food wasn’t as the Winter Fair. But I was told in a nutshell, it was not the job of the press office to check out civil servants’ diaries. Well I’m asking a specific. This is about one man, one diary – one guy who is in one of the most powerful roles in Welsh food and drink. Why is such a simple question so difficult for civil servants to grasp and answer?  I’m not interested in general civil servants diaries, why would I be? It’s me asking about the new man in post, the top man in the food department.

Isn’t the most important point here that I’m relaying questions that were from food producers? If any of the wag food people were badge up and had spent their time touring the food hall – maybe, just maybe, some brave food producers would have been able to ask their questions directly. But many of the food team weren’t badged up, they often didn’t have business cards, but perhaps they didn’t feel it was a working day for them so these, what in my mind are basics, weren’t needed. I think I could safely lay money that the wag food team didn’t go around and speak to our food producers, if they had why would their questions have been directed at me?

I was appalled our Head of Food wasn’t there. But the crux of the matter is I’ve I’ve spent too much time, writing lots of emails, to lots of civil servants who were not able to actually read and understand what I was trying to achieve. So why am I bothering? I’m bothering because I want to support our food producers which is the job wag food can’t seem to be able to do.

I’d no intention of posting this – although, with hindsight, it would have been the easiest and quickest way for me to air these problems from the food hall. Annoyingly it’s been a total waste of my time and effort and it’s infuriated me beyond belief, hence my sharing it with you. It will also go as an apology to those producers whose questions I could not get answered. It feels like my failure but the bottom line is, in my view, a wag food department failure.

I was told in the food hall, and not by a producer – that I was wag food’s most severe critic – well I wonder why that is wag? If you have difficulty answering that question just read welshfoodbites, in full, and remember its food producers speaking to you too!!! I’m probably one of the few people stupid enough and prepared to keep wasting their time and energy trying to get the food department to understand what is happening out there. I should have more sense after nine years of being bullied by this department. I must admit that. But in my defence I thought the new regime would change that attitude, now I’m not convinced. You might wonder why I bother and that’s a question I ask myself – daily. But we have over 125 food producers with us on our Best Of Welsh & Borders as advertisers, not to mention eateries and accommodation providers. Welsh Country magazine has always said that we’ll support our advertisers, what Ian and I didn’t appreciate was how frustrating it would be with the Welsh food department. I don’t expect wag food to put on record that they appreciate the work that we are doing, but doesn’t this clearly show that that they have no intention of working with us? That they don’t need our help? I’m not just talking advertising here, but understand food producers and the difficulties they continue to face.

So continue to read welshfoodbites wag food, because as my emails are treated with contempt, that’s  the best way now you’ll find out what is really happening with food producers. Unless you think fork2fork might be able to keep you more up-to-date and you’ll feel that your latest £43k donation to them for 12 months work to copy and paste any press releases onto their website worthwhile? I don’t think so, but that’s another of your dubious money wasting decisions that many people do not agree with. £43k you live in another world than we do and have a total disregard for the value of tax payers money, even though the SCES scheme is European money, there should still be no difference.




Food Action – Consultation

16 Dec

For some unknown reason this framework tender slipped under our radar, so my thanks to one of our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers who gave us the update about it. Figures for this framework are between £11m – £19m. I’ll leave you to give me your feedback………

Food Sector Development Framework

Published by: Welsh Government

Publication Date: 04/11/2013

Deadline Date: 16/12/2013

Deadline Time:14:00

Notice Type: Contract Notice


The Welsh Government Food Division are seeking to put in place a framework to provide a range of advice, guidance and project delivery across the following lots.
Lot 1 Trade Development Opportunities or Food & Drink Sector
Lot 2 Specialist Food & Drink Consultancy –Events
Lot 3 Specialist Food & Drink Consultancy – Services
Lot 4 Specialist Food & Drink Export Consultancy
Lot 5 Food & Drink related Research and Evaluation
Lot 6 Category Management – Retail, Wholesale & Public Procurement
Lot 7 Meet the Buyer Programme
Lot 8 Mentoring – Specialist Marketing & Business Skills Support
Lot 9 Programmes to support the Food & Drink Sector
The framework will be let for a period of 36 months with the option to extend for a further 12 months.
Please note that a bidder briefing day will be held in the Welsh Government Offices at Aberystwyth on 14 November.
To register for the event please send a message through the messaging section of the eTenderWales website through which this ITT is being run.
CPV: 73110000, 73210000, 73000000.

I cannot say that this is for the action plan that you are being consulted about, because it was known that this framework was coming up for renewal, but the timing is wonderfully coincidental!

I am far from understanding the total ways of government procurement, but this framework has been brought up over the past when I asked questions about why this work job was not available for tender etc.

It is supposedly a money saving exercise in that wag issued a tender such as this for various types of work, but at this stage nothing specific. So when for instance in the past wag required a consultation company, say to look at food festivals, it did not go out to open tender, but went to one of those already ‘approved’ by them – Miller Research who were on this framework list.

I understand the fact that wag wants to save money, but my past experiences are that this rarely seems to happen, and I can only see that this way the awarding of contracts makes them far less transparent. Certainly in the past it looked that wag’s favourite companies always got the work. For those regular readers of welshfoodbites I have already commented about this many times in the past……….

It does though appear that when wag decided what they are going to do after their ‘food and agriculture consultation’ launched at the Winter Fair, that all their favoured Welsh Quangos will be in place to do their bidding, ‘twas ever thus!

I hope that the consultation does bring change and I shall certainly be submitting comments and supporting those food producers based in Wales, especially those working with us on Best Of Welsh & Borders, many of which are the smaller artisan companies that make our range of Welsh food and drink the best there is. However I digress again. It worries me that change is not happening as quickly as it should be doing. There was a wonderful opportunity at the Winter Fair for wag to break down some of the longstanding barriers and mistrust that has been long-standing between them and the food producers. Despite there being a couple of meetings in the food hall where many suits and polished shoes were plentiful, but many without badges, I hasten to add. But there seemed a distinct lack of communication with the producers exhibiting. To me this should have been a priority, but not seemingly to wag. Proving again in my mind how out-of-touch they still are. This, added to the absence of some wag officials, in particular our new Head Of Welsh Food. There are too many to count that cannot actually believe that he chose to miss the Winter Fair. In my view that was a political and a promotional disaster and one that wag couldn’t afford. It was an error so basic as to be unbelievable, even in wag’s book.

The financial figures shown above figures cannot be more accurate as the framework will last for 3 years and not all projects are yet finalised. Supposedly many will not be formulated until the consultation has finished and your views taken into account, again a hope and by no means a certainty. Then obviously projects can be altered over the next 3 years.  This time of year is when we try and look forward with some renewed enthusiasm. As we come slowly out of recession, we should be looking at growth not survival, but this cannot and will not happen without all  parties co-operating. That must include food producers, of all sizes, plus manufacturers and retailers. It should also involve the likes of me on the sidelines, but as I continue to bang my head against the wag wall, it might not. I need to see and believe in a massive change in wag’s attitude and my optimism for this, which was there in the summer, is there no longer…………………………………….


Cowbridge Food & Drink Festival

28 Oct

Cowbridge festival is not always blessed with the best of weather, but leading up to their weekend they were blighted with news on all media with forthcoming storms and possible hurricanes – not the news they needed at all. Sadly the forecasts were reasonably accurate and I’m sure it must have affected the visitor numbers, although I didn’t get an official count.

However regular readers will know that Cowbridge food festival is one of my favourites and I can assure you there are not many Welsh food festivals in that select group! So why is it a favourite? Well lots of reasons really and the starting point is Polly. If you haven’t met Polly, she is the Cowbridge Events Manager. She runs her own company, pollywilson events and I think she does a great job – so enough said. Polly’s been managing Cowbridge for what seems like forever and if only I could bottle her skills and positive attitude and send it around some other festivals that could do with a much-needed boost. But obviously Polly’s not running this festival solo; she has the backing, direction and support of John Davies, the Chair of Cowbridge Food Festival. John’s such a star. Over the years he’s assembled a brilliant team around him. Between them they give Cowbridge a festival they have every right to be proud of. I’ve never said that it’s an easy job to run a food festival, I’m certainly wouldn’t volunteer to run one, but I must say, with tongue-in-cheek, it tends to look easy when you visit a well run one!!! Or maybe the Cowbridge team have all been brilliantly trained as swans, gliding serenely along whilst paddling like mad underneath!!! But it’s the producers and the visitors that matter and no-one can take away that this festival has got a great deal right.

So how did our visit to the 10th Cowbridge Food & Drink award winning festival go? Well Ian and I always visit on the Sunday as Saturday is always busy, busy, plus I obviously get better feedback after a day’s trading. The opportunity to talk to producers that are, by and large smiling, although tired and sometimes rather damp, is really worthwhile. I did talk to a few producers who weren’t on a par with their last year’s figures, but on the whole, a reasonably positive picture in that weather and this climate.  Overall Wag’s funded festival programme has not been that good this year, with very few festivals managing to buck the ongoing economic recession, so to talk to some happy food producers did help to make my damp day. Another bonus at Cowbridge is that Polly accepts quite a few of our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers, but that just shows what a quality festival this is, selling the best of Welsh food!!!!!

What always impresses me at Cowbridge is how John, Polly and the team have continued each year to encourage the whole town to get involved, not only back the festival, but to push their own businesses too. I’m disappointed when other festivals can’t get their towns supporting their festivals because I do feel it is important. I’m certainly not saying it is easy, it’s something Polly and I have discussed on a regular basis and  it’s been hard work for the Cowbridge team, they have found it tough, but no-one can disagree that this makes the whole festival work much better and gives it a real buzzy, party atmosphere. Some of Cowbridge shops were even advertising festival specials. I did hear of a wag funded festival who wouldn’t allow one of the shops on his own High Street take a food stand, even though it meant his shop still stayed open! I wouldn’t have believed it if the shop owner hadn’t told me himself but you couldn’t make it up could you?

I’m sure I commented last year that Polly is one of the few organisers who does listen to the traders; she takes their comments on board and makes improvements, if at all possible. The traders respect Polly and that is fairly unusual. Yet despite Polly’s skills, even she can’t increase the festival site size! Over the years John and the team have tried their best to gain additional space where they can and re-jig the layout to utilize the space they have available, but it’s inevitable that some traders are turned away. Of course that’s annoying, but as traders talk amongst themselves of a ‘fabulous festival at Cowbridge’ then the more traders apply each year and the disappointment continues. I’m sure some of you are from time to time a bit sloppy filling in your application forms, but you cannot expect Polly or any other organiser for that matter, to remember the little quirks about your particular business. Put as much detail on your form as possible and stop expecting organisers to be mind readers, or the equivalent of Memory Women!

After all these years asking, I’m now not sure that wag food can devise one universal application form that all food festival organisers will accept, even if it’s only for a year. I used to be hopeful that could happen, but with the lack of interest from wag to date, maybe that’s something else I’ve got wrong! It would cut down on producers’ paperwork, as they would fill in one form each year and email it through as an attachment, with an opportunity to make changes during the year if necessary. Instead we have a time-consuming system which wastes our producers’ time and effort and doesn’t help organisers that much either.

It’s the dialogue that Polly has worked hard to establish not just with the traders but also from my side too. I get everything I need for Polly. I know what’s happening; I know who’s exhibiting, so there are no grumbles from me. The finishing touch was on Tuesday when I received in the post two wristbands – without having to ask!!!!!! Efficient, yes, helpful, yes, but more so I actually feel that this event wants to see Ian and I in Cowbridge – so how brilliant is that?

Cowbridge is a beautiful, town full of character, without a multi-storey car park and I say thank goodness for that. So it stands to reason that parking will always be an issue. It goes without saying that every trader wishes to park a maximum of 20 paces away from their stand, but that is just not how it works in the real world. The Cowbridge team has worked hard to try and grab any space they can get their hands on for their two day festival, but as the festival continues to grow in popularity, its bond to be a victim of its own success. A great solution has been using the young people from ATC Squadron 293; they always do a great job each year, helping traders move their stock to and from their vans, litter picking and sorting out any little hiccups that occur. These young people are always polite and a credit, not only to the ATC, but to their parents too. To help combat the parking issue Cowbridge runs an efficient Park & Ride, which is a huge help and the other bonus was clear signage on my way in. Another plus was all the Marshalls/Stewards I came into contact were polite and helpful; so it’s no wonder I find Cowbridge festival a pleasure to attend.

The cookery demos were moved much closer to the main action, which was sensible and worked well. There were locals chefs down for duty and again this is something I like and want to see more of at other festivals. Not sure though if the chefs were using food from the producers, but if not, maybe this can be sorted for next year. .

Cowbridge had little option this year but to run without wag funding, not Cowbridge’s fault at all, it’s all down to lack of organisation, late confirmation of budgets, but whatever the reason it is simply not acceptable wag. Cowbridge were given at the best two and a half weeks notice not only to fill in oodles of wag paperwork, but were this year asked for CV’s for their team. No, you haven’t misread it, I did say CV’s. Now you are going to ask why CV’s are required and my answer is they are not. But it is apparently in case wag’s P.A.s are asked for them. What utter rubbish.wag food of course will then say this is public money and we have to be careful and responsible. Well that’s their theory which simply doesn’t stand up because wag food waste as much public money, in my view, as many other government departments. Someone at wag food needs a whacking dose of common sense before Welsh food festival organisers all decide on mass to resign. Again in my view, wag food doesn’t deserve to have such hard-working volunteers, because they are simply not appreciated. So a serious reality check is needed here wag. Firstly the bulk of your funded food festivals are run, by-and-large by volunteers, many retired or semi-retired. But CV’s has to go to the top of my very long list of wag’s stupid, pointless requests. No-one in wag food has thought this through from the organisers’ point of view, which continues to be one of the main problems of the wag food department.

So far this year, Ian and I have attended seventeen festivals and have failed to see a wag food person at any of them. But surely if official visitors wish to attend can’t wag pick up the phone and talk to the organiser directly? Because wag sent out their applications so late,  Cowbridge were out-of-pocket by £10k – which is a big hole to fill, and more so when it was not their fault. I wonder if wag raised any concern as to why Cowbridge hadn’t applied for funding this year. If  I’d have been wag, I certainly would, but then I am talking about civil servants that get paid each month, not the self-employed and certainly not volunteers. However I find it sad, because as wag, I’d want to take some of the credit for this fabulous festival. It showed off Welsh artisan food producers, the bulk of them Welsh food producers, to great advantage, it added a great deal to the town, with locals and visitors enjoying themselves.

Now there’s a funny twist to this thread, because ironically, for this festival who through no fault of their own were not funded this year, guess who visited on the Saturday? Minister of Natural Resources and that includes food, Alun Davies as well as Jane Hutt, Minister of Finance. They spent a good hour there and were given a tour around by John and hopefully in that time both Ministers could understand the problems that both their departments put on these volunteers who are supporting not only our food festivals but also their communities by attracting more people into their areas. Please don’t hold your breath on this one but let’s just hope seeds were sown and they grow. Now any festival would be reveling in two Ministers visiting in a day but that wasn’t enough for Cowbridge, oh no. On Sunday, someone else who was their in a private capacity with his family, was first Minister Carwen Jones. I didn’t realize Mr. Jones had such good taste, but as we all met up at the SamosaCo stand, in the food-to-go marquee, for their amazing chicken curry, I shall have to retract that, I cannot fault his taste on the curry front!!!

Next year Polly is going to have the same problem with even more producers desperate to get a pitch there. From her side, in some ways, it’s a lovely position so be in, providing she accepts that she can’t please all the producers, all of the time!! So if I can offer a snippet of advice to producers, fill the forms in fully, sell your company well, be adaptable about maybe not bringing your whole range, and then keep your fingers crossed. If you fail to get in maybe Polly can give you feedback ……

Congratulations Cowbridge to all involved for once again putting on a fabulous festival; your hard work has certainly paid off, despite the dreadful weather. Your success is totally deserved.


More Food Festival Rumours

15 Oct

In my last story posted yesterday 14/10, I said I hear very little indeed from wag food. Well how true that is, because yesterday I was told by a foodie that Welsh food festival organisers have been requested by wag food to submit to them their list of food producers at their festival, so wag food can presumably check that they have hit the required 75% Welsh food producer criteria.

Well guys you really couldn’t make this up could you? I have been commenting publicly on welshfoodbites for the last three years and have always been very vocal with my views on Welsh food festivals. I’ve spoken to wag food directly, both face-to-face and in writing. I’ve made clear my disgust that last year wag food paid Miller Research to do a 2012 food festival evaluation at a cost of £43k, yet it was only last month that I was able to finally obtain a copy of their ‘words of wisdom’. I’m not sure that Miller gave wag food a copy of their report last year, so I cannot see how wag food decided on this year’s criteria, unless of course they continued to use my opinions from welshfoodbites…………………………

But my worry continues to be that these food festival evaluations are an utter waste of public money and help wag food only by allowing them to tick another box on their list. This year we have two companies doing an evaluation and, as far as I understand it, it will be achieved by them looking at the organisers’ paperwork submitted to wag food, plus them ringing organisers and no doubt ringing some producers too. I doubt very much if these two companies will have attended any of this year’s food festivals, if they have I’ve certainly missed them. So they will have to form their opinion simply working on completed paperwork and talking on the phone to a few folk, but at least wag food can then tick another box!!! I know I’m cynical, but all organisers might not tell it as it is, but rather as they know wag food wishes to hear. So what’s the point of that then? Again with producers, if they wish to attend a festival next year, are they going to complain about anything at all? Of course not, they are not stupid and I don’t give a hoot that these call ‘might’ be in confidence, producers will not believe that any more than they believe wag food are on their side!

CLES were the appointed company, for the food festival evaluation. Wavehill are approved contractors carrying out some of the work in partnership with CLES. The tender value was £27,800+vat.

Now all this puts a couple of questions in my mind. Firstly that wag food asking organisers for this information now seems to give CLES one less job to do. Secondly, playing the cynical journalist, how can wag food be sure what the organisers send them is correct? Thirdly what in theory is asking for how many Welsh stands were in attendance going to mean? Bearing in mind many, many festivals have already been paid their agreed grant funding. If at this late stage in the funding plan it is shown some festivals haven’t made the required 75% can wag food ask for a refund? Then as press releases and signage were other wag food criteria, so how can these be proved? Because from my side not many funded food festivals managed to do that one either.

Of course I’m delighted that wag food and the likes of Miller Research are viewing welshfoodbites on a daily basis, despite this site not being publicly funded like fork2fork at a cost of £43k for one year; it’s flattering that they can take on board what they read. What is disappointing is that cannot then make my suggestions work for the benefit of our producers. Plus there’s no need to thank me, I’m sure my accountant has to be wrong when he reminds me I have a VAT number not a charity number, can that really be true?

This week I had an interesting call from one of our Best Of Welsh & Border producers, telling me that they had again been turned down by Abergavenny. No reason was given to them, despite them being professional Welsh primary producers – if Welsh food festivals are not for the likes of them wag food, what are you funding them for? This company were simply thrown out whilst Abergavenny took numerous stands from Cornwall and the Isle of Wight. Sadly this is not only happening at Abergavenny, as many festivals are guilty of this poor practice. But whilst this practice continues, wag food have just stood pathetically by and watched it happen, whilst our Welsh producers are not only losing vital trade and revenue, they have no form of re-address against being thrown out. So wag food, how can that be fair?

I’ve also heard once again, another rumour saying that wag food will not be funding festivals again next year. Of course I’ve asked wag food and been told no decision has been made and I’m sure I’ll hear about Scottish food festivals before I hear about our Welsh ones. But if wag food don’t fund food festivals next year this department and its Minister will have, let’s say a lot of egg on their faces. However if wag food cannot come up with festival criteria that are workable, then maybe it’s easier that we all admit defeat, wag food have won and we might just as well give up.

I’m not sure whether to sum up this post by saying to wag food, too little, too late, or reminding you all once again that sadly, commonsense is certainly not commonly available.



Who Controls The Funded Food Festival Calendar?

07 Oct

My answer – no-one.

Ian and I were at Brecon food festival on Saturday. Other festivals also on last weekend were Newport and Neath, all three of them mid/south based. All three of them were funded by the wag food to the tune of nearly £20k. I got endless complaints from producers, mostly saying the same thing, why three festivals on the same weekend that they could basically all attend reasonably easily. Yet next weekend there is only Anglesey running, which is too far for many of the mid/southern producers to attend. So if these producers only have the staff and resources to attend one festival, how do they make their decision? That’s a tough one isn’t it? Where are they going to make the most money is really what they come down to, isn’t it? Some producers did manage to do two festivals, but it meant either having to bring in temporary help, or run each stand solo.

This is not a new discussion point I’m introducing, Ian and I have been mentioning it for years, but to no avail – no-one bothers to listen. One wag official did tell me there was nothing wag food could do about it, but I totally disagree. I think it should be part of wag food’s job to encourage food festival organisers to talk amongst themselves and plan a sensible working calendar for the benefit of the food producers. It will actually help them too as it should bring a greater selection of artisan food producers to them clamouring for a pitch. If that’s not possible, I think wag food should then say: if you can’t help with this basic issue, then some festivals will not be funded if they clash dates. Money has always been power and the ‘government cashier should surely have a say………………….

The food department, in my view is there to support food producers,  but if I was a producer with a choice of three festivals last weekend and really nothing this coming weekend, I’d be furious and feel as many said on Saturday that this department is letting them down – again. A couple of producers were cross with me, which was unfair, as I’ve said this many, many, many times to the government that this should be done. So far I’ve failed in making wag food see my point of view, but the sad thing is my point of view relates to feedback I get, from producers that wag food in effect are supposed to be supporting.

Another question I was asked on Saturday was how many wag food employees attended their 32 funded food festivals? Many or any? Well if you take out Cardiff and Abergavenny, I’d say not very many at all – if any.

My final moan was that I’ve had no press releases from any of these three festivals; in fact I couldn’t find a list of producers for Brecon on the web. But that’s no longer new news for you is it? But to be fair, I didn’t bother checking the other two festivals as I’d no intention of visiting them as well. So why do wag food bother to issue any criteria to food festival organisers? What’s the point? Is it just another pointless box ticking exercise? Which I have to say wag food are good at, aren’t they? I just can’t understand how wag food think they can accurately analyse that their criteria are followed. The two companies wag food are this year paying to do a food festival evaluation, is from my side, a total waste of our money. Apart from the fact that another box will be ticked.

So it seems not to matter that these unresolved issues continue year after year after year, and our producers are not being supported.

I’ve yet to have any feedback from either Newport or Neath.


Cardiff Country Fair

01 Oct

I had this sent through to me on Monday and after checking out the source, who is a person who was there throughout the event; I thought that some of you, who didn’t attend might find it of interest.

Written by Serious Foodie: A a dedicated and very disappointed Foodie who may well next year go to Italy for the real show………

Did you know there was a Country Fair in Cardiff Castle last weekend?  ‘No?’  Don’t worry too much, you’re not alone. Judging from the overall attendance figures the show was a well-kept secret and amongst those that did attend, many thought they were attending the usual British Cheese Festival.

It seems the event organisers are not very good at multi-tasking as last year’s British Cheese Festival was blighted by poor organisation. The official excuse was, ‘they’ say, caused by the council staff being overwhelmed with the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations and the Olympic Torch staggering through the city.  Why either event should prevent sending out invitations to hopeful vendors, followed by response delays so long, that many decided to take their products and produce elsewhere, but that’s what happened resulting in a much smaller show than previous years.

So what was the excuse this year?   At first it wasn’t clear if there was even going to be a Cheese Festival at all, rumour had it that it clashed with something going on somewhere in Italy, which was true. The Bra Cheese Festival which is far from a new event has been going on for years. 

Then we were informed that as the Italian Festival was a bi-annual event, then the Cardiff British Cheese Festival was now going to be every other year to avoid the clash. Heads up Cardiff, here’s the provisional dates for The Bra Cheese Festival for 2014, 19th – 21st September.

OK, so no Cheese Festival in Cardiff in 2013. The event team or committee, or whatever, wandered around in a dither as to whether or not to do something else and as before, took so long to make a decision, that most of the possible vendors made alternative plans.  So instead of a Cheese Festival we ended up with a sort of village Fete.  

From the footfall I’d guess they managed to keep the whole thing a secret from the public as well. Of course the footfall increased round about lunch time when the local students arrived for their annual lunch of free samples. They apparently have no shame as they stand around discussing the various merits of what’s on offer before wandering off to the beer tent to wash things down, before heading back for round of ‘See how much free food you can neck down.’ 

As a casual observer at these events it seems that the point that it’s supposed to be ‘Try Before You Buy’ and not a free lunch, is lost on many who come to these shows. The fact that for many of the stall holders and vendors who forked out the guts of £500 to be there and that this is how they make their living is largely lost or probably just ignored by the great unwashed hoards.

Was it a good event? Hardly. Very disappointing from what was on offer with, I’m sure, a lot of very disappointed people from both sides. There were lots of negative comments about increased costs and abysmal attendance.

As far as the highly successful Cheese Festivals of the past, I can’t help feeling that the Cardiff event team shot themselves in the foot for the second year in a row. Nor can I believe that all the cheese producers went to Italy and that there wasn’t enough left to come to Cardiff and put on a decent show. 

As I point out above, the Slow Food Festival may be Bi-annual, but the same venue in Italy is planning a Cheese Festival next year and the dates look as if a clash is once more inevitable. It does make you wonder what next year’s excuses will be for a poor event in Cardiff and how long we have to wait to hear them!    

Rumour has it the event organisers are thinking of another Country Fair for 2015. Good Luck with that kids but I do wonder if you will find enough gullible vendors to come!    

Thanks so much for sending this through as I cannot possibly attend more festivals than I do. So that is much appreciated. We are all entitled to our views and I understand perfectly when you’ve paid our your hard-earned cash you do expect a fair return. We’ve all got mortgages and kids to pay for!

How disappointing to get a festival report back from someone who spent the entire show there – unlike me who is definitely a day visitor!!! I’ve have always got positive feedback from the Cheese Festival, with some of our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers saying it’s one of their best festivals of the year. So I’m concerned that what appears to have been a poorly attended event will put visitors off next year. Cheese is on of the many food products that we excel at in Wales and any opportunity to get behind it with a big promotional push must be taken and done well.

The comment about samples is always an ongoing one, but one that I think is made much worse when people have to pay to come in. Some people then take the attitude that if I’ve HAD to pay £3, £4, £5, £8 or £13 or whatever the entrance fee is to come into this event, I shall make sure that I eat at least that amount to break even. If you talk to any producer that has samples out, or like I do, simply watch people as they ‘browse’ the sampling stands and then listen to parents encouraging their children to ‘grab a handful’ – then you’ll realise that far too many people have no intention at all of purchasing at all. They don’t give a hoot that these samples cost the producers money and cut their profits. However, if your competitors are sampling, then producers have to be resigned to often taking a hit on sampling and hope for bumper sales.

Stands prices, so I’m told were a whacking £420 for the two days, which is really a lot of money. I wish organisers could realise that the stand price is only the start of a producer’s outgoings for each festival. I’ve been concerned for years about stand costs generally and always about the stand costs at the Royal Welsh and Winter Fair and £210 a day is getting on a par with them, but in view is excessive if you’re  not getting the massive numbers of people through the gate. I think I’m right in saying that the Cheese festival stand price last year was about £300, which is a huge difference. I still think some organisers  find it hard to understand what producers actually need from festivals. Of course you can sum it up with the obvious, make a decent return whilst they are there, but I do appreciate that if you’re  cocooned in the security blanket of getting your regular salary at the end of each  month, it must be hard for them to ‘get’ the life of the self-employed ……………………


Feedback On – Bridgend Feastival

01 Oct

I’ve just been chatting to a producer who attended this festival at the weekend, whilst Ian and I were at Narbeth food festival. Bridgend applied for funding from the Welsh food festival budget of £9,500 and were fortunate to received £9,000. What they did with that funding of course I’ve no ide,a but according to my feedback source it wasn’t spent on marketing & advertising. Their view was that the  festival was a disaster. Very few people there and those that did stumble upon the event had no idea it was taking place – think that might come under pot luck!

Yet again I’m sad and angry to get feedback like this. I have to query once more how wag food make their decisions as to whether or not to fund a festival and then work out by how much they will get. I guess they couldn’t have used the latest Miller food festival evaluation report, as we’ve only just got hold of it  – unless, unlike us, wag got their copy in January. This festival funding situation is totally ridiculous. The money wasted at all levels, simply beggar’s belief and there is no way you could possibly run a business in this sloppy manner. In one way I hope this company has not read any of the Miller report, in another if they have they’ll choke on Miller saying that producers take about £1,990 per festival. Good gracious, we don’t get told much, but often it’s total rubbish and I for one am totally fed-up with it.

For goodness wag food talk to people that know and understand festivals, – producers would be a good place to start, but in fairness to you, they’d never tell you the truth for fear of reprisals. But you should all remember that’s it is tax payers that are paying your wages. Wag food should have it’s focus on supporting food producers and food festivals are a vital part to many of their businesses.

I must apologise though, because I don’t know how many times I will have to keep saying the same things to wag food before someone in that department wakes up and takes a reality check and that’s one where the salary is NOT paid into the bank each month regardless of performance.



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Monitoring & Evaluation Of Food Festivals 2013-14

08 Aug

As you are all more than well aware,  I’m not at all happy with a further evaluation of food festivals. Something to do with the fact that we are still waiting for Miller Research’s offering on last year’s festivals. I’ve been chasing for this report, but apparently it will be available of wag’s website at the end of this month, although initially I was told June.

Obviously we are not privy as to when wag received Miller’s words of wisdom. However if this report was going to be of assistance to wag this year to decide their latest criteria, you’d have hoped wag would have been pondering over it early this year, wouldn’t you? If that didn’t happen, just what is the point of spending with Miller, so I understand £43k?

Anyway still concerned about this, I asked questions under the Freedom Of Information Act on 2nd July. Questions were as follows:

When was the 2013 – 2014 Monitoring and Evaluation of Food Festivals Supported by the Welsh Government put out for tender?

  1. Which companies submitted tender applications?
  2. When was the tender awarded?
  3. What is the completion date for this tender?
  4. What is the Welsh Government paying the two successful companies for completing this tender?
  5. When will the review be published and available to the press and public?
  6. The 2013-2014 Monitoring & Evaluation of Food Festivals Supported by the Welsh Government, was this put out to open tender or from framework?

Although I’ve not had an acknowledgement, today I received a hard copy response. Puzzling why and emailed FOI warrants a hard copy response dated simply August 2013, but there we are – wag rules. Anyway their words of wisdom are shown in full:

1. The tender was issued on 30th June 2013.

2. Two companies submitted tenders for the work, Miller Research and CLES (Centre for Local Economic Strategies).

3. The tender was awarded on the 19th June.

4. The successful company is expected to submit a final report by 7th March 2014.

5. CLES were the appointed company, Wavehill are approved contractors carrying out some of the work in partnership with CLES. The tender value was £27,800+vat.

6. It isn’t possible to give an accurate date, however we would anticipate that the report would be released Spring 2014 for publication.

7. The tender was issued to companies on the Welsh Government Research and Evaluation Framework Lot 4 – Programme /Project Evaluation.   

So this response still raises further concerns. I’m wondering how wag issued this tender on 30th June but then awarded this same tender on 19th June. How can this be? We all know that wag ‘works’ slowly, but to award a tender before it’s actually been issued is certainly beyond them isn’t it?

The other cause for concern is the cost of these tenders and the wastage in my view of public money. Last year for evaluating about the same number of festivals, Miller got £43k. I’ve not got their report so cannot comment on its contents, but at least they did attend the festivals, so in theory, should have had a good idea of what was going on. This year, CLES with Wavehill are doing this work for £27,800, but the price difference is because these two companies are apparently doing their evaluation by phone along with feedback forms, plus organisers input. Well I know of far too many festivals that are ignoring wag’s stated criteria, but if some organisers are good at ticking wag’s precious boxes, how is this evaluation going to be worth anything? To me it seems silly and we need a system that will work and give us better, more profitable food festivals next year.

Now before any of you ask me why I keep bothering to try and get wag food to see sense, it’s quite simple. For many of our Best of Welsh & Border producers, festival and markets are a vital selling–tool for them, but neither of these sectors is really working well. The wag food festival budget was cut again this year, so it is even more vital that this budget gives value-for money, yet it  doesn’t.

If only wag food could learn some lessons……….