There was huge relief all round that the sun shone on the showground in Builth Wells. I visited on Monday and after signing in at the press Office and able to get a cup of PG Tips …….despite the fact that Welsh Brew Tea had two stands at the show; I made my way to the Food Hall. Before I entered the Welsh Food Hall, I had to pass a mobile van selling ice-cream, nothing wrong in that you might think, but you’d be wrong, this van was Kelly’s Of Cornwall, yes guys Cornwall!!! In our Welsh Food Hall there must have been at least three Welsh producers selling ice-cream and the quality of their product I know is second to none but why should they have to compete with a van from Cornwall just outside the Food Hall? Is there a Cornwall foodie insider working on their behalf in the RWAS? Or is there another reason for Cornwall ice-cream to have such a prominent position alongside our Food Hall. Now please don’t think that Kelly’s of Cornwall is a mini family business, because I didn’t walk the entire Welsh Showground I counted a total of three Kelly stands there. Now of course I’m aware just buy looking at the ‘quality’ of some of the stands at the outer reaches of the show ground that the RWAS must take any stand that wishes to attend, but is it really beyond the comprehension of RWAS and Wag Food to put in at least some effort to push Welsh food first.
I saw a few red banners bearing Welsh Assembly Government logo, saying there were supporting rural business, but perhaps micro and small food producers don’t come under Wag’s count of rural businesses. You hardly need to be the ‘Brain of Wales’ to work out that this mobile ice-cream van could easily have been sited elsewhere, it is after all a very large show ground and all it needed was a little thought and for Wag Food to recall who they are actually working for. Perhaps this might just get me into another game of ping pong when Wag might say it is not their jurisdiction and pass it over to RWAS, but if that’s the case RWAS might care to recall that Wag is possibly their biggest single benefactor. For as I understand it Wag allegedly put into the RWAS coffers via various means £1m for the summer show. Wag ‘occasionally’ forgets that those doing the paying, do the saying too. Wag does use this ploy elsewhere, but that is another story to be aired here later.
So that was my day off to a poor start, but could it get worse? Sadly yes it could and it did. As I walked around the Food Hall, and I did that many times during the day, what struck me, as it did when Wag first opened this building is a total lack of anywhere to sit. There where no seating areas inside at all and it got to the stage where some people had no option but to sit on the floor. Good heavens what is life coming to that this obvious one to me anyway, is not important to the powers-that-be? There was space for seating areas to be done, as they were last year, but if you go onto Preseli Coffee or visit Welsh Brew Tea for a well earned cuppa, it appears you just wander around trying to drink it. As for food if you wish to buy some of the fabulous food on offer, then you eat on the hoof or go outside and find an area of grass to camp down. People resorted to sitting on the concrete steps outside and because the weather was lovely and warm, I guess that was better than nothing for them. But this area was not cleaned on a regular basis, not sure that I actually saw that many cleaners on my travels. But surely the infamous Food Hall should be a priority for cleanliness. I did find around one corner of the Hall just a few tables and chairs, but there was no bin sited there, just a few plastic bags tied to railings and the floor was nothing short of a disgrace. The demo kitchen, which ran last year in the Food Hall wasn’t there this year, but even that extra space didn’t spur Wag to provide a seating area. I would have thought that the longer we can keep people interested in the Food Hall the more opportunities for our producers to sell to them – but what do I know? Answers by email only please!!!!!!
So Wag; if that’s your showcase of Welsh Food, your standards need to rise. There were some outstanding producers in the Food Hall and many of them were our Best Of Welsh & Borders and I was delighted to be associated with them. What a choice of food on offer but what a dreadful shame I felt that they were let down by Wag once again.
I was told that Horeb Food Centre was having some sort of event in the room above the Food Hall, but think my invite got lost in the post, unless Horeb Food Centre had nothing to tell the press.
I was told by one producer that it cost £750 for a single fronted stand and £900 for a corner stand; this includes a table and two chairs and two tickets per day. Well although this is for four days, it’s still a huge amount of money bearing in mind if you want an extra table, that’s another twenty pounds, there was no chiller area this year, but of course if you wished to hire a fridge from them they could do that – for another fee. Last year the traders had a coffee and tea machine and water provided, this year they only had water, but no explanation for the change this year, maybe they are expected to just be grateful they got water included for their £750 fee. I’ve just checked my old records for RWAS 2008. According to the letter I have it says that it costs Wag £50k plus vat to hire the old Food Hall for the summer show alone and an additional £180k plus vat for stand build, graphics and dressing. In 2010 my info states a single fronted stand £355 plus vat and £405 plus vat for a corner stand. In 2011 prices I have show £600 plus vat which is £750 for a single fronted stand and £700 plus vat for a corner stand which is £875.
Every time I go into this new Food Hall, I cannot forget that this building was designed by a food expert, no doubt at huge cost, bearing in mind the bill was £1.6m, but on the plus side at least after the first shambolic opening in 2010, the stands are no longer in long straight runs, so it does work better and allows much easier traffic flow. But that is really my only plus point. Wag Food pay the RWAS £100k per year so that they have this building for the Royal and the Winter Fair, which is a lot of money to then fail to showcase the Best Of Welsh food – and of course that figure is only the start of the costs. For the old Food Hall, Wag paid £50k per year to RWAS, so a 50% increase is not a bad earner for the RWAS is it?
The warm weather certainly played into the hands of the Farmers’ Market which had about 10 quality stands and wooden tables and benches so people could buy and eat and drink. It proved a popular area and I hope that it is a good four days trading for our producers.
HCC -Hybu Cig Cymru
Sorry guys, I’d forgotten I’d been invited to an HCC breakfast and press conference and listened to the HCC Chairman and the Deputy Food Minister each give an address, both delighted with the export sales they have achieved this year and that they had invited a party of Italians over in an effort to win our trade for that market. I just wished I’d had both those men with me at a Slow Food Movement lunch I was invited to last week. A lady who had recently moved to Wales complained to me that she struggled to find Welsh meat in her local supermarket and why was that considering all around her cottage she’s surrounded by sheep. I suggested she rang HCC, but there was no hope that would happen, she was just so annoyed that buying Welsh meat should be a challenge. So I gave her a copy of Welsh Country magazine – highlighted her nearest butchers and she was happy.
Over the years we’ve talked to HCC endlessly by phoning, hoping we could find a way to work together and obviously help our local butchers especially those already with us on Best Of Welsh & Borders listing, but also to help local butchers in their battle against the supermarkets. We’ve even had a meeting with them, which was not fruitful and we’ve talked regularly with their PR Agency, who did tell one of my team she ‘was too passionate about Welsh food’ – can you believe that? So there’s no point me mentioning this issue again with HCC because they don’t believe what I’m saying. So no progress there for, whilst they are busy bragging about their exports.
Stubbins Marketing and Puffin Produce both had stands there, generously giving away samples and encouraging people to buy in their local supermarket – great. So this raises my next question, what’s the point of the Royal Welsh Food Hall?
It appears to me that Wag focus the food hall to help promote Welsh food to the supermarkets. Indeed the Royal Welsh has to be the show where all the UK food buyers for the bigger supermarkets and wholesalers are all present. So it follows that the larger food producers should be in attendance and presenting their produce in the most professional manner. For these companies the restrictions of the food hall maybe isn’t quite right for their companies. Perhaps a corner stand isn’t big enough for them. They might want more space, they might want more raz ma taz and to be able to offer a little hospitality on their stand. On the other hand in the promotion from the Royal Welsh, it highlights the Food Hall as a fantastic place for the farmer’s wife and the family to go and find excellent Welsh food; it doesn’t say you’ll then struggle to eat it. This is a wonderful concept and should be applauded, but the two do not really go together. Indeed by putting the two together in my view spoil both sides of this coin. This hinders supplies to the supermarkets because the buyers are not treated with true VIP hospitality as they are at some speciality wholesale shows, but for the smaller producers selling to the general public, they are hindered with supposed restrictions on sales and not good facilities for the public to enjoy the food that they purchase. I do accept that some smaller producers do wish to go the supermarket route too but this is not difficult to sort out – simply ask them!!!! There must be a better way to make more out of what should be an amazing showcase for our artisan producers and they have never needed Wag’s support more to fight the recession and for many the supermarkets too, but if only they could get that support.
I do understand that it will not be easy answer, but please WAG bring your head out of the sand and face facts, actually engage with producers and just to be clear, I mean talk to them and then listen carefully to what they say – do realise that this will not be a simple task for you because many producers simply don’t trust you as civil servants, they don’t believe you have their best interests at heart in fact many don’t think you are interested ion tghem at all. But as some members of the food team can’t even say hello to producers at these types of events, you have a long hard road to climb, but it is of your own making.
Things can be improved to the benefit of all, to the reputation of Wales as a whole and more importantly for Welsh food to all sectors of society.
The speech made by the Deputy Food Minister at the HCC breakfast was very full, and from industry people I spoke to later in the day, their view was it was very full of hot air and Bet Fred could have taken good money on the number of times that the Deputy Minister said talk. Talking is good, but only good if it is linked with listening, that is why we have one mouth and two ears. It has been said by the Deputy Minister and others from the Welsh Food Department and its many institutional offshoots, that there is very little wrong and they hear very few complaints from food producers.
All businesses know that it is looking at the weaker areas of their business and it is by improving these areas that good businesses succeed and grow, i.e. by being self critical. May be we can all learn from one of the best and brightest business men to walk the planet – Bill Gates who once said “I am self-critical … I’m always searching for things I’m NOT perfect in.”