After hearing too many of your grumbles about not getting into some food festivals, our team have been chatting to the Welsh Government and a few organisers to see if we can get any clarification. I’m always upset when any of our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers aren’t allowed in!!! But Polly Wilson from Cowbridge Food and Drink Festival, which this year runs from 27-28th October, was quick to respond and explain how things work there. This is how Cowbridge operates:
“On behalf of the Cowbridge Food and Drink Festival Committee I would like to thank everyone for their expressions of interest in having a stall this year. It is unfortunate that we can’t fit everyone in as there are some amazing producers
For 2012 we had 120 forms for 80 stalls. We have to keep a few free for now as this leaves us the option of inviting sponsors to exhibit. Otherwise these will be filled from the exceptional waiting list. We are ever grateful to the wonderful John Family who loan us the site (free of charge) that holds the exhibition marquees. We use as much space as humanly possible but there are
still 3 businesses in this area who need to function. Therefore, without significant changes to the festival, we will always be limited to these 80 stalls.
In 2011 we changed our applications process to our current system whereby we set a deadline for interest and then meet as a sub-committee of 7 (including 2 producers) to select a good balance of exhibitors. As soon as the deadline date has passed we close the database until the following January and ask any further people expressing interest, to contact us then. We still receive many calls and emails up until October and adding each one can be time-consuming. This year the form was sent to the database of over 300, plus others requested and those passed on by past exhibitors.
From the expressions we will each have preferred existing exhibitors who we know have a great following with returning clientele. But we feel we need to have 10-15% of new or returning exhibitors to keep the festival fresh. The geographical question always comes up and generally the exhibitors from outside Wales are of exceptional quality and fill a particular niche that we want represented and have no alternative application from closer.
We feel that this process has allowed us to have a much better variety of produce and this year we have over 60 primary producers exhibiting. We know that visitors like to see tasters having paid to get in and nearly 60 this year
will be offering samples. These are bits of information that we ask on the form which are useful statistics for our funders but do not generally sway our decision. We also ask for awards won as this can be indicative quality and also can prove press-worthy later in the process. This is also useful regarding True Taste winners as we have started highlighting these with True Taste logos as it was felt in the past that we did not show enough presence of the logo. As we run the week of the awards, we don’t know the updated list until we are on site!
We have always been reluctant to have strict criteria drawn up as this will limit our ability to respond to feedback and our individual judgements. If each festival had the same criteria then festivals would become very “samey” which
is not what we want.
Prior to this process starting, we opened applications and kept accepting until we were full, only turning down exhibitors when it was felt there was too much of a certain product. This meant for example, that we might accept a pancake stall from Shrewsbury and later get a great application from Barry and not be able to accommodate them.
We ask for full details of produce they want to sell so that we can make sure we don’t have too many preserves perhaps. I am going to a food festival shortly and note from the website that of 40 stalls, 8 have listed a preserve element in their wares. It also means that if a form states brownies, cupcakes and flapjacks we might offer them a stall rather than allocate 3 separate stalls.
After two years of using this process we feel that it offers a much better and fairer platform for exhibitors but we recognise that there will always be those disappointed for no fault of their own. We are always open to feedback from exhibitors or visitors regarding this process or any other matter and if it is felt there is a better way, we will look into it.
These are difficult times for producers everywhere and we have held our exhibitor charges at £160 for a normal stall for several years now which we feel is competitive. We do not want to put the price up to get fewer applications but think that this price is a contributory factor in our popularity because it is so cost effective. Our ticket price will also stay the same this year as the simplified system of £4/day worked very well last year.
We know that Cowbridge Food and Drink Festival is in a very privileged position of being able to chose from great producers and still have a very strong reserve list but this ultimately does cause disappointment. We would welcome any feedback on how we could improve this process and invite producers to apply next year even if they have not been successful this year. Ultimately, if we are to continue in this difficult climate we need to do all we can to support as many producers as we possibly can.
Now I know that some of our ‘Best of Welsh & Border producers have not got in again at Cowbridge, plus a couple of them I think have been bumped out this year. I understand your massive disappointment at missing out on such a brilliant and financially rewarding festival, nothing hits home harder than not being able to get accepted. But let’s be realistic, it’s a fantastic festival, one of my favourites, I must confess, but as it’s such a good money earner, Cowbridge like many others will continue to be heavily oversubscribed. On the site in town, Cowbridge haven’t room to expand and add more stands and so we must all accept that fact.
I’d love to see stands in the High Street and the High Street closed off but I’m sure locals would hang me for saying that. My challenge to you guys that missed out is to read carefully Polly’s criteria and see how you can prove to her next year that your stand is one she cannot do without!!!!
Get your application in early and give much more thought about the produce you want to take, the awards you have won, have you got some different lines to your competitors? Literally sell yourself to Polly and her team, say why Cowbridge will be better with you there!!!!!
I was impressed that at least at Cowbridge do have producers on the selection committee. That’s good, but maybe even better might be to include a true professional trader that is doing festivals week in week out. They will really understand festival problems, they’ll know the good traders and they’ll spot what I’m now calling ‘Pin Money Traders’ which I think is often
covering the influx of some cup cake and jam makers. I’d also like to see my suggested professsional trader, named to all tradestands so they can be used as a sort of ‘trader rep’ for the festival. Any tradestand problems can be directed through them and then taken further if needed. If they’ve been on the committee, then I’m sure there will be fewer issues cropping up initially and it would perhaps take some of the hassle away from people like Polly during the event. I’m not sure if this idea has been tried at food festivals - sorry if it has and failed, but it’s a method I seen used to great effect on the equestrian circuit with the competitiors.
Another idea, which I accept some festivals will not like, is they send out to traders a tradestand map with your forms and you say which area you’d prefer to go in, or maybe say you don’t care as long as you can go! Where you are sited is a huge problem, especially at the larger festivals and often you don’t know until weeks before where you have been put, if you are told at all! Again at larger festivals different prices, would premium prices work for busy areas, or would it be easier to have slightly cheaper stands on the outskirts?
Not sure if I agree totally that food festivals could in the future be in danger of being samey. I can’t be sure of course how many people are regular food festival junkies like Ian and I are, but think that’s unlikely. Many traders haven’t got the time, staff and money to travel from one end of Wales to the other and although I accept there will be some, just not a huge amount. So for me that’s not a problem, especially as our selection of produce is so good that visitors enjoy the tasting opportunities and being able to chat to the people that our producing such fantastic food. You really cannot get that experience in the supermarket, no matter where you shop.
So with lots of things to talk and ponder about, I’ll leave that with you……………………………..