Posts Tagged ‘HCC’

Bodnant Sells ‘Welsh’ Pork…from Belgium

07 Jan

Apologies for having to play catch up, but I really wanted to post this story, late though it is. A lady paid a ‘premium price’ believing she was buying a Welsh ham joint whislt shopping at the Bodnant Welsh Food Centre. Despite a label clearly describing the meat as Welsh, her purchase wasn’t Welsh ham at all it was from ham from Belgium – the ham was stamped with the word ‘Belgie’!
The shopper paid a premium price for her ‘Welsh’ ham but is now wondering about the authenticity of the shops other products. Bodnant responded to the shopper’s written complaint but did admit that the pork could come from an EU country, despite it saying on the label. ‘Welsh cured gammon joint’, ‘pork produced in Wales’, and ‘origin – Welsh’.
Chris Morton, managing director at Bodnant Welsh Food Centre , said: “We are fully committed to promoting Welsh produce. “Our gammon is cured in Wales and is supplied to us by Farm Fresh, part of Castell Howell, a long-established, reputable and fully accredited company and Wales’ biggest producer of cured meats. We would like to apologise that, in this instance, the gammon joint had been incorrectly labelled, and we have taken immediate steps to ensure this does not happen again. We support Welsh farmers – all our fresh lamb, beef, pork and Christmas poultry comes from Wales, with the vast majority from nearby farms. All the fresh lamb, beef and pork at Bodnant is sourced directly from Wales. Our gammon is cured in Wales by a reputable, fully accredited supplier. They use pork sourced from the EU, including Wales and the UK. We will continue to work with Welsh suppliers.”
In 2012, Bodnant was opened by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall and has since been named Welsh Farm Shop of the Year and the best in the UK by BBC Good Food magazine.

Sadly I’ve still not visited Bodnant, but I’ve had some excellent reports back from various sources, praising this outlet. To have a farm shop like Bodnant promoting Welsh food and drink is my idea of heaven, even more so if selfishly it was just down the road from me! But this story is so disappointing and very annoying. It’s likely to damage Bodnant, when they have worked hard to build a reputation of selling quality Welsh produce.  I hope they can sort out this issue quickly and get the message out again that they do sell quality Welsh food and drink.

Over the last few days I’ve noted this story taking Twitter by storm with various people venting their wrath. Well that’s fine, but I wonder how many of these angry people have found the time to do something even more constructive than just Twitter? Have any emailed the Deputy Food Minister and asked her why this well-funded, Welsh centre been selling Belgium pork? Asked her how can she make it easier for Bodnant to access Welsh pork and ham? How many people tackled the well-funded Hybu Cig Cymru (HCC), to find out why this fine farm shop must get ham from Belgium to get what they then mis-label Welsh pork? The Welsh Government set up HCC to promote all Welsh meat, or so I understood, but seemingly Welsh pork for too long a time has had a raw deal and this situation seems to prove it.
Until last year I did have a splendid pork producer near me, but their ongoing complaint was that HCC didn’t do enough or in their words ‘anything’ to promote Welsh pork. I had to agree with this company because the focus of HCC seems to be Welsh beef and Welsh lamb, hardly ever, anything in the press to promote Welsh pork. I have no idea why this situation has occured but HCC need to do much more, in my opnion anyway, to promote our magnificent meats – and I mean all of them!

Welsh Country magazine has always set its stall out to promote Welsh food & drink, but even I have to admit it’s not been an easy journey, basically it’s government and people not being able to work totgether for the benefit of Welsh food & drink. We rarely get much coverage about Welsh food and drink in the media and Bodnant really didn’t need a story like this to hit the Welsh tabloids. Sadly good news stories are not often in the papers. But this is an important issue because it can easily knock the confidence of the many Welsh people who readily support their Welsh farmers’ markets, Welsh farm shops and Welsh food festivals.

I do hope Bodnant can get this issue sorted out quickly and that HCC at least tries to help them.



Welsh Farmers Unhappy With UK Meat Levy System

18 Sep

I’ve just been updated about a recent meeting in Welshpool covering how farmers in Wales are being treated unfairly by the meat levy system. Farmers are angry over the unjust set-up which sees Welsh money drain across the border to England. Amongst people attending the meeting were: FUW president Glyn Roberts,  FUW Montgomeryshire chairman Mark Williams, Dunbia’s Wyn Williams and Peter Morris of 2 Sisters.

This unfairness by the meat levy system is affecting Wales’ the ability to promote Welsh Lamb in the face of stiff competition. FUW leaders discussed low lamb prices amongst other issues, when they met with meat processor bosses. FUW said their concern focused on the iniquity of the meat levy system in which a large proportion of Welsh levy payments end up across the border in England.

The current system means that levies collected from farmers and processors stay in the country in which animals are slaughtered rather than where they are reared. The FUW has been lobbying for a decade for fairer levy distribution but little progress has been made. Wales suffers hugely as slaughter capacity has fallen and so has the levy money received by Hybu Cig Cymru (HCC), the Welsh red meat promotion body. Following the closure of the Vion plant in Gaerwen in 2013 it is estimated HCC’s red meat levy funding drop by around £500,000. HCC’s levy funding does not come close to reflecting the number of animals born and raised in Wales and HCC believes that fall in levy revenue has affected its ability to market Welsh lamb products.

There was also annoyance at the slow progress with getting Welsh produce into the US market. It is obvious that there are many other factors affecting the lamb price that are beyond the industry’s control, such as the value of sterling, but there are others that must be improved such as better meat product development which was much needed, the supply chain had to address the imbalance in demand for different cuts and also to see changes to the regulations on carcass splitting which is scientifically unjustified and severely undermines the prices farmers receive.

The Welshpool meeting appears to have been interesting one, but the ongoing frustration of our farmers cannot, and shouldn’t be underestimated. In my view it’s more than time that the powers-that-be get their act together and support our Welsh farmers whilst we still have a farming industry.

Welsh food and drink is supposed to be important to our economy isn’t it?


Awareness Or Sales – Which Would You Prefer?

30 Oct

This saga continues as I ask the obvious question, awareness or sales, which would you prefer? Well you’d have to be an idiot not to want sales, but then no doubt you are working for yourself and if you don’t sell you don’t eat, can’t pay the mortgage etc. I posted again on 28/10 after one of our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers sent through interesting questions relating to a post on 24/10 on Welsh Lamb – How much Is Produced & How Much Is Exported. Although this Best of Welsh & Borders producer was not in the meat sector he raised valid questions and points about the meat market and the difference between awareness and market penetration.  

Yesterday however I could have exploded, after receiving another press release from HCC about their efforts which they say has resulted in 94% of consumers in Wales and 80% in the south east of England who thinks of Welsh Lamb as a premium quality product. 90% of consumers in Wales think of Welsh Beef as a quality product. Well it’s fine for HCC to blow their own trumpet but the Freedom Of Information request I put forward gave me worrying figures. In case you missed that one, here it is again:

1 – What was the total production of lamb in Wales in 2012?

In 2012, 61,500 tonnes of sheepmeat was produced at Welsh abattoirs.

2 – What was the total importation of lamb in 2012?

In 2012, 86,100 tonnes of sheepmeat was imported into the UK.

3 – What was the total consumption of Welsh Lamb in Wales in 2012?

Total consumption of Welsh Lamb in Wales in 2012 was approximately 3,200 tonnes.

It’s very creditable if consumers based in Wales and the UK ‘think’ Welsh lamb is a premium quality product, brilliant, but why isn’t there a follow-up question asking how much Welsh lamb they bought each week? Then why is the total consumption of Welsh lamb last year only 3,200 tonnes? Then 90% of Welsh consumers ‘think’ Welsh beef is a quality product, but how many buy Welsh beef?

Call me a cynical journalist by all means, but I cannot understand why the Welsh Government and Welsh Quangos do these stupid surveys apart from them having to tick Government or European boxes. I’m sure I’m not alone, but if I’m asked silly questions about Welsh food, then more often than not my answers are not, shall I say accurate!!!!!! It matters not one jot whether Welsh or UK consumers ‘think’ Welsh beef and lamb are quality products or not, what matters to our butchers and farmers is whether those consumers are buying our Welsh meat on a regular basis or buying New Zealand lamb instead.

Awareness or sales, is a simply question to answer if you’re a Welsh farmer or a Welsh butcher trying to earn a living, but it seems others for some reason think awareness is more important……………………..

It’s impossible for producers to forget the Awareness Campaign that Fork2Fork took on for the massive payment of £800K for 2 years and then a further 12month extension worth £100k. Although ‘we’ then paid a further £43k to have this campaign evaluated – seemingly it’s not possible to accurately evaluate awareness. But all that money thrown at awareness, to my mind could be better spent elsewhere where its value could be judged.





The Welsh Lamb Debate Continues

30 Oct

On 24th October I posted – Welsh Lamb How Much Is Produced & How much Is Exported? I’ve been surprised that this post has generated a fair amount of discussion and surprisingly from those producers outside the meat sector.

So I want to share with you some thoughts from one of our respected Best Of Welsh and Border producers, (BOW), who is also not involved in Welsh meat, but he did have some interesting points to air and share. So let’s say that Wales has a population of 3.1m people, which could easily be about 1m families.  In 2012, in a survey of Welsh foods, spontaneous awareness of Welsh Lamb was 40%, unprompted, which was greater than Welsh cheese/butter/milk/beef and vegetables. So that shows that the consumer knows about Welsh lamb. My post on the 24th stated that 3,200 tonnes of Welsh Lamb was consumed in Wales then that’s about near, or makes little difference, of 3kg per family, per year. This in anybody’s world is surely nothing less than staggering, just 3kg, per family, per year. So let’s break that down to one leg of lamb and a couple of dozen chops per family, per year. Not even a Sunday roast more than twice a year across the whole of Wales.

But having worked that out, what about our visitors? We can’t forget them as they must surely consume some of the 3200 tonnes I quoted initially.

Thinking this through even further, my BOW producer and I are coming up with a picture, although neither of us are marketing experts, but then we’re not stupid either. Isn’t this what analysts call a lack of consumer penetration? This means that although people ‘know’ about a food product and so they’re aware of it, but they’re not purchasing it. It could be as low as 10% of the population buy Welsh lamb regularly, which could mean a Sunday roast once a month for just 300,000 families in Wales. So the question which is raises its ugly head, is why isn’t more of the Welsh population buying and eating Welsh lamb? I wonder if HCC no the answer and/or what they are doing about it?

Maybe this is too simplistic. Perhaps this is the actual size of the market, but from where I am, not many people seem concerned and I would like to know why not?

Isn’t it up to the industry to look at the reasons why penetration is so low and do something about that? Awareness is fine, I know about Ferraris but I am never, ever, going to buy one. So what does awareness mean if someone then cannot convert that into sales?

We’d love to see some demographics on the market, that would be useful, as would a split between wholesale and retail would be interesting. Who buys what, where, when, how much, who is the consumer, are they young/old/retired/professionals/etc.? We’ve lots of questions but need answers……………………

Have HCC, MINTEL or other data on the red meat market on which they have based their strategy?

Have HCC done lots of work and decided that selling Welsh lamb in Wales just isn’t worth the effort once they’ve understood the potential market opportunity? Is that the case? Or is it down to the simple fact that more money can be made exporting Welsh lamb and so the home market has been kicked into touch and HCC will just pay lip service to us?

Can I just thank the BOW producer for taking the time to put thoughts and views in writing for me. It’s much appreciated, especially as this is not your sector, so although you’ve raised many interesting question, there is no self-interest here.






Welsh Lamb – How Much Is Produced & How Much Is Exported?

24 Oct

I had a question sent into me asking details of Welsh lamb production, how much is exported and how much is eaten in Wales. I followed this question through only because it came from one of our Best Of Welsh & Borders, (BOW), producers and it is a service we offer them if they don’t wish to have their name put forward. So I sent the questions through to the press office to be dealt with as a Freedom Of Information request. The press office then sent them through to Hybu Cig Cymru, (HCC), Meat Promotion Wales. Follows is HCC’s response:

1 – What was the total production of lamb in Wales in 2012?

In 2012, 61,500 tonnes of sheepmeat was produced at Welsh abattoirs.

2 – What was the total importation of lamb in 2012?

In 2012, 86,100 tonnes of sheepmeat was imported into the UK.

3 – What was the total consumption of Welsh Lamb in Wales in 2012?

Total consumption of Welsh Lamb in Wales in 2012 was approximately 3,200 tonnes.

4 – What was the average deadweight of lambs produced in Wales in 2012?

The average carcase weight for a lamb slaughtered in Wales was 18.6kg.

5 – What was the average deadweight of lambs imported to Wales in 2012?

The data for the average deadweight of lambs imported into the UK from overseas is not available.

I have now passed the response to our BOW producer and suffice to say his comment on these figures, is not ‘of the tone’ that I could quote to you!!!

The one conclusion that I’ve made and is patently clear, is that the figures are not clear. Now you have to understand dear readers, that figures have never been a strong point with me so do bear with me. I’ve browsed through ‘Food and Drink Wales (published July 2013)’ where it states states that 34,000 tonnes of Welsh lamb is consumed in the UK and that 69,000 tonnes of Welsh lamb goes overseas.

Then onto the ‘Decade of Success’ an HCC publication, again from 2013, where it says 35% of Welsh sheep meat is consumed outside Britain.

Now even with my poor mathematical ability, these two statements do not agree, despite the fact that they are supposedly coming from the same source, HCC, within weeks of each other. To add to my confusion, if further confusion was needed, when HCC talks about exports, they tend to talk about monetary amounts of export, rather than tonnages.

Ploughing on further and trying the ‘HCC Little Book of Meat Facts 2013,’ there it states that per capita consumption of sheep meat in kg/person/year is 4.4. So if I take a rough population of Wales at 3.0 million, we consume 13,200 tonnes of sheep meat. But yet again discrepancies emerge, comparing sheep meat with that of lamb, but I think I can safely say that there is much more lamb eaten than mutton. So in Wales we eat 13,200 tonnes, but only 3,200 tonne of that is Welsh meat. Which, in my view is hardly a figure to be proud of.

HCC has a tag of Meat Promotion Wales, but I do wonder what this sub title actually means and wonder too why Wales imports  so much lamb? Perhaps Meat Promotion Wales doesn’t mean promote Welsh lamb in Wales, for Welsh people to eat, but enables HCC to be able to blow their trumpet on how much Welsh lamb they can export.



Abergavenny Update

02 Oct

I have obviously hit a nerve!  

Today I have received a letter of complaint from HCC stating that I am implying that HCC is corrupt.

I state most emphatically that I am not implying that at all. What I am saying is that HCC is not giving me all the facts about their spending.

HCC have been asked how much they spent overall on their stand at the Royal Welsh, no specifics, just an overall figure. This question followed comments into us from butchers, who felt that this was not the best way to promote Welsh meat. So this is HCC butchers that are not happy and have different ideas about meat marketing. This question would not have been raised unless it came from one of our Best Of Welsh & Border producers. HCC told us that this was information was commercially sensitive and could upset their stand builder. I didn’t think I was clever enough to work out how much the stand provider gets from HCC from an overall figure, but there we are. That’s financial information HCC can’t supply to me.      

Abergavenny Food Festival lost in excess of £30,000 of Food Festival Funding this year. On the Abergavenny Food Festival website both HCC and Visit Wales appeared as sponsors. My admittedly cynical view was wondering if the funding had been directed via different ‘government’ parties. So I asked questions, to be told that both HCC and Visit Wales are just exhibitors. I then asked why all the trade stands are not listed as sponsors, as this simply still doesn’t make sense.

So I am not implying or accusing any corruption, but I am stating that in my view, transparency and openness is lacking and obviously raises queries.   




Abergavenny Food Festival

23 Sep

Wag’s festival funding changes have hit the likes of Abergavenny hard this year. They only received the maximum £10k from the food festival budget as opposed to £46,800 last year – so that was quite a drop.

But what concerned me this year was to see that Visit Wales and HCC, Meat Promotion Wales,  both listed on the festival website as sponsors. This led me to believe that these bodies were then helping make up the shortfall in Abergavenny’s festival funding pot. So I asked wag’s press office and was told Visit Wales were not sponsoring Abergavenny. Then I was told to talk to HCC directly as they had their own press team, so that’s what I did, to be then told that HCC were simply an exhibitor at Abergavenny, not a sponsor. Further confused, I then contacted Abergavenny who said: we are working in partnership with them but we don’t differentiate that from sponsors on our website or other material as it gets too complicated.  Meat Promotion Wales are happy with their arrangement with us. We have different levels of relationship with various stakeholders in the festival and this is reflected in how we profile the individual organisations through our various media.

I find it bewildering that HCC class themselves as an exhibitor and  are shown on the festival website as a sponsor, that seemingly didn’t apply to the other 200+ traders who were also paying for stands to exhibit. But if Abergavenny class HCC and Visit Wales as stakeholders, does that mean additional money has changed hands between the three of them? Well who knows? Because despite me the real run-around I’ve been getting, I’m still not sure. So I’m afraid I’m no further forward, still perplexed so sorry dear reader, but I did try.

A brilliant bonus at this event is being able to use the hospitality section located at the back of the Kings Head. Run by Suzanah from her own company, sbh events, that lady is a star. There was an excellent range of food and drink on offer, which was what the visiting guest speakers and media required throughout the day. A board also gave a list of producers who had donated produce and I really hope that they all got good feedback for their generosity. Suzanah and her team should be congratulated for putting on such a professional and tasty show. I was impressed by how quickly the tables were cleared, which was necessary as it did get busy but everyone was so polite and helpful. Of course all the produce on offer should have been Welsh, that goes without saying, but I’ve not attended another food event that has looked after media so well, so as I say, a real bonus.

Ian and I were obviously earlier getting there this year, arriving at the event at 8.00. We tried to get in Hospitality for a much needed coffee boost, but sadly we’re too early for Suzanah this year. Not to be beaten, we continued our caffeine search and went into Cross Street, finding just one coffee shop that had the foresight to open at that time and boy that was worth the effort for them. When we sat down, there were 31 people in Luigis, * with many eating breakfasts! Good coffee, pleasant helpful service. I was just surprised that no other cafés in the area bothered to open early too. It’s only on for two days and it seemed silly not to make as much money as possible when so many people were arriving. Whilst I’m on my coffee theme, I’d a few comments from traders saying when they were setting up they’d no hope of getting a coffee. That was another disappointment. Over the years, Ian and I have done many tradestands, so we’re aware that coffee is essential to help you through the tough setting up process. I can’t understand that the few coffee stands that were around, and in fairness I didn’t see that many, hadn’t been encouraged to make and early start, make some early cash and provide a welcomed, much-needed service to the rest of the traders.

Signing in to the festival after my caffeine fix, I was cross to see a stand just by the hospitality entrance promoting Paella Fresh Seafood from Cornwall, yes Cornwall, seemingly our Welsh waters are barren! I’m afraid that annoyed me all day, even though they did describe themselves as Paella Pirates from Penzance. But of course they weren’t the only stands there not Welsh, we’d veal from south east Cornwall, who somehow got into the popular Market Hall, pies from Devon, there were chillis from Wiltshire, bread from Devon, Spanish food, and of course the regular garlic man for the Isle of Wight, who also got a priority place on the Brewery upper level with their other stand alongside selling tomato related products Their two stands looked huge, I’d guess about 25-30 feet, but there’s no way you could miss them, that’s for sure. Before attending Ian did a calculation of where the stands came from and he found not quite 50% Welsh stands, although wag food have decreed funded festivals must have at least 75% Welsh stands. I think 75% is a fair amount, but I also feel very strongly that some Welsh stands shouldn’t be pushed away into slower trading areas either. Wag food must be promoting Welsh food producers and if wag food fund a festival, the organisers must put Welsh producers first.

A disappointment to me and the producers sited there was the Lower Brewery Yard, because there was no traffic flow, or more precisely people flow. There was no entrance/exit at that end, so what it was a cul-de-sac, which doesn’t encourage people to move down to that area, when they did they didn’t stay there very long, even though there were some tables and chairs there. Many traders allocated space there were most unhappy and I can see their point. It was a shame another entrance/exit couldn’t have been sited there, but you will certainly not have traders wanting to go back in that area again, not that they seem to have a choice where they are sited. I do wonder when the garlic man is allocated space in that lower quarter instead of the busy Upper Brewery Yard itself. I appreciate it’s impossible to keep all traders happy, I appreciate that traders aren’t always easy to deal with, but then all organisers aren’t either and we all must remember that traders are there to earn their living. I do wish there was a fairer way to allocate the better sited trade stands more fairly. If traders are put in a known slower area then a fair way would be at least to adjust those stands fees. What I did like in the lower area though was a new walk way through to the Priory, which has never been a favourite area of mine I must admit. But this walkway did move some people through quite easily to it. The Priory didn’t seem to quite know which sort of area it was, but having said that some did say that they’d not had a bad time overall – so something was working – and that’s all that matters, despite my misgivings.

An area that did work well was the Lion’s Place, some brilliant artisan cheese stalls, wine, beer, hot food all in all a great selection that created a wonderful atmosphere. This area really works. When I say I spoke to quite a few traders in that area at the beginning and at the end of the day, I didn’t chat to anyone who’d had a bad weekend. In fact one said it was the best event he’s been to for a long time – how about that? With another difficult trading year for producers, that was music to my ears, especially as the company was on of our Best of Welsh & Borders producers! A few of our Best Of Welsh & Borders who normally attend this event weren’t there this year but they’d had problem over the last few years, and had been moved form their usual busy pitches and pushed out to the quieter Priory. Some of them complained, during the event and some after and this year, they weren’t there. Whether they’d decided not to apply again, I’ll have to find out later, but these were professional long-standing Welsh producers. In my ideal world I would have hope someone from Abergavenny might have picked the phone up to them and tried to re-build bridges, but as I say I’m not sure yet if anything did happen. I  got good feedback too from many traders sited in Cross Street, they’d also been busy and enjoyed themselves.

I called into the Monmouthshire craft area, which was around the back of Lions Place, on Lion Street in Horsington’s Yard as we’d a few advertisers with stands there. But I was livid when I arrived to hear a Jazz band, literally belting out their music. Now I’m not anti-jazz, in fact, especially as the group was quite good, but they needed a volume control, they were way, way, too loud. People were stood enjoying the music, but the few people trying to shop, couldn’t hear themselves speak. The traders were there to sell, not be deafened by music. As one trader told me – We traders are the entertainment, not jazz musicians! After the close of business, the jazz band would have been brilliant entertainment, but not when traders are trying to engage potential customers to purchase in what is a very tough trading climate. Light background music is great, it creates a good atmosphere, but people and traders should not be deafened out by loud noise, even it is music!

Overall I have to say that the event was good and for those Welsh traders that did manage to get a space, many did  seemingly do well. It is also good that the festival attracts so many people from all over the UK. I do though remain worried about the funding, the smoke and mirrors of Visit Wales and Meat Promotion Wales. Taken on its own, the value from Wag’s food department has to be good, but will the criteria be upheld from that department? I just can’t see any policing of their policies that wag food have set in place.  So why bother?

*Sorry but I completely forgot to tell you about meeting Mr Holtister in Luigis. This lovely gentleman was soon chatting with me about the festival and showing me some super photographs he’d taken. But what also surprised me was he was also a poet. He gave me this poem which I wanted to share with you:

Food Festival

 The Glory of a festival is there to be seen. As you go round the corner it will make you beam,

Enjoy yourself while you can – because our festival is so grand.    

From the festival poet G. Holtister  

Abergavenny Update posted 020113  

I have obviously hit a nerve!  

Today I have received a letter of complaint from HCC stating that I am implying that HCC is corrupt.

I state most emphatically that I am not implying that at all. What I am saying is that HCC is not giving me all the facts about their spending.

HCC have been asked how much they spent overall on their stand at the Royal Welsh, no specifics, just an overall figure. This question followed comments into us from butchers, who felt that this was not the best way to promote Welsh Meat. So this is HCC butchers that are not happy and have different ideas about meat marketing. This question would not have been raised unless it came from one of our Best Of Welsh & Border producers. HCC told us that this was information was commercially sensitive and could upset their stand builder. I didn’t think I was clever enough to work out how much the stand provider gets from HCC from an overall figure, but there we are. That’s financial information HCC can’t supply to me.      

Abergavenny Food Festival lost in excess of £30,000 of Food Festival Funding this year. On the Abergavenny Food Festival website both HCC and Visit Wales appeared as sponsors. My admittedly cynical view was wondering if the funding had been directed via different ‘government’ parties. So I asked questions, to be told that both HCC and Visit Wales are just exhibitors. I then asked why all the trade stands are not listed as sponsors, as this simply still doesn’t make sense.

So I am not implying or accusing any corruption, but I am stating that in my view, transparency and openness is lacking and obviously raises queries.   





It Doesn’t Appear That HCC Are Supporting Farmers’ Markets

01 Aug

On 31st July I posted the question: ‘Are HCC Supporting Farmers Markets?

HCC, Hybu Cig Cymru, assures us that they are supporting farmers’ markets, but that is not what we are hearing. So puzzled by yet another stand-off, we emailed 60 Farmers’ Markets, asking them that simple question. The feedback, I can only describe as startling. I was pleasantly surprised that any market organiser would have time to email us back, bearing in mind that many market organisers are volunteers, but some have and this is where it stands to date:

60 emails sent.

23 responses received.

1 market was pleased with the support received from HCC

1 market was undecided how to respond and ‘was thinking about it……………………….

21 said that they’d had no support at all from HCC, OR didn’t know who HCC were!

Well if I was HCC I’d be having a re-think about their stance on farmers’ markets. Actually markets was one of the three sectors Fork2Fork were supposed to target, so one would assume those two parties at least had some dialogue, even if apparently there wasn’t much action to follow in their two year programme.

As HCC I’d also think more carefully about what was  published in their official booklets.

It’s honesty, not spin, that is the best policy, especially when backed up with facts and figures.



Are HCC Supporting Farmers?

31 Jul

Two booklets published by HCC, Hybu Cig Cymru,  the Decade of Success and the Royal Welsh Show 2013 Food and Drink Wales state that HCC ‘works with Farmers Markets’.

That puzzled our team as we are regularly ‘got at’ by butchers who say that HCC do little if anything for them, HCC is focused on supermarkets and exports, not butchers. But in case I was missing something in the world of Welsh meat, HCC was asked to clarify.

Their response was as follows:
With regards to your question, HCC has supported farmers markets in different ways over the years. For example, we have given cooking demonstrations at several markets, including Riverside in Cardiff. We have also provided farmers who sell at these markets with promotional material. Farm shops that sell PGI Welsh Lamb or PGI Welsh Beef have also been provided with material which includes recipe booklets, posters, etc.

I’m afraid I didn’t find that helpful. Citing Cardiff Riverside market is fine but it’s one of the few markets that’s not struggling as much as many others across Wales. Please don’t expect me to believe that what happens in capital reflects what’s going on over the whole of Wales. I find it rather insulting that HCC will come out with a statement that they are ‘working with Farmers’ Markets’ is not a serious statement that can be followed through.

HCC have now been asked what they have done for specific Farmers’ Markets in the last twelve months. I’ll make sure their answer is passed onto you.  

My other concern, that has been raised quite a few times on welshfoodbites is that HCC go on and on about how supportive they are to farmers and retailers that sell PGI Welsh lamb and beef, but if they are doing such a good job with PGI, then why are we talking to butchers who have no idea what PGI is? Whoops, sorry, maybe those are the butchers that haven’t yet told HCC that they are butchers with a shop in Wales, so hopefully HCC can add them to their database and then send them out some literature. I apologise for forgetting the onus is on our butchers to tell HCC they are trading, which is perhaps just one of the reasons that HCC still cannot tell me how many independent butchers there are in Wales.

No point wasting further time with HCC but I do wonder how many readers of Welsh Country magazine, i.e. our Welsh Joe Public, have heard of or have a clue just what PGI is all about………………………..

A further comment from on HCC states: HCC do not give direct financial aid to any farmers markets. As previously mentioned,
what we do is give those farmers and butchers who sell PGI Welsh Lamb or PGI Welsh Beef and who have stalls at farmers markets the same promotional assistance that we give other retailers that sell PGI Welsh Lamb and PGI Welsh

Well I think most of us in the industry are aware that HCC do not support financially any farmers’ markets, but seemingly Riverside was in favour with HCC at some stage  with a cookery demonstration. Wowee! So when HCC publish booklets that are for the public too, saying they support farmers’ markets, what they actually mean is that they support farmers and butchers that are involved with PGI. Well why can’t HCC be up front and say just that?  Aren’t the Welsh public confused enough without HCC adding to it?

Talk about knocking you head against a brick wall ………………………………….

Ian’s taken the trouble to email farmers’ markets asking what support they’ve had from HCC – three replies back within literally 10 minutes saying: That’s easy – nothing! And another saying None. I doubt HCC know we exist.

Haven’t time to update this with any further responses but starting off with 3 so quickly is something, but it’s so annoying  with this feedback and I can only wish that HCC can take it on board.


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.