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What next for small Welsh food producers?

(December 01, 2013)

Developing the food sector in Wales
What next for small Welsh food producers?

TrueTaste Y Gwir FlasWales the True Taste/Cymru y Gwir Flas
Photo: Mark Adams of Corpulent Capers

Following the news that Alun Davies AM, Minister for Natural Resources and Food, had decided that the existing Welsh food strategy 'Food For Wales, Food From Wales' was no longer fit for purpose, the first casualty was the Wales the True Taste/Cymru Y Gwir Flas Awards.

At the time, Mr Davies issued a statement entitled "The Future Promotion of Food and Drink from Wales", in which he stated that he had been reviewing the True Taste/Gwir Flas branding and had concluded that it was consumer facing, outdated and no longer met the needs of both the food industry and consumers. This was in stark contrast to the Welsh Government's December 2012 statement that said "The Wales the True Taste brand plays a major part in creating awareness of Welsh food and drink amongst consumers." What a difference a change of minister makes.

Y flas wir - Mark Sargeant Newport FFY flas wir - Mark Sargeant at the Newport Food Festival image: © Corpulent Capers

Alun Davies went on to say that he would continue the development of the Food and Drink Wales branding first used at the trade-only 2013 International Food Exhibition and which is a trade, not a consumer brand. 

But where does this leave the small producer? Do they need a trade identity or a consumer brand? Most of the small producers I spoke to were dismayed by the loss of the True Taste Awards and were critical of how long it took the Welsh Government to notify them that it would not run in 2013.

So after ten years, was True Taste a waste of time and money? Beaufort Research have been tracking the awareness of Welsh Food and Drink plus True Taste for the last ten years. Their research shows that the True Taste logo was recognised by 34% of the Welsh population in 2012 (the last year the awards ran), as opposed to only 9% when tracking began, in 2003. A significant improvement. Overall, when all aspects of True Taste branding and promotions are taken into account, awareness has increased by 28%, now touching 67% of the population.

As the majority of small Welsh producers sell their products via farmers markets and food festivals to the local consumer. The removal of such a recognisable consumer brand in favour of a trade identity can hardly be good news … can it? Many small producers expressed concern that the new strategy would focus on the large manufacturers and producers, that supplying supermarkets and exporting to countries such as Russia and China would become the focus. All things beyond the reach of your artisan baker or jam maker.

 

Cardiff International Food Festival 2011 Cardiff International Food Festival 2013

Cardiff Food Festival, in 2011 (left) and 2013

In September, Alan Davies AM issued a statement titled 'Developing the Food Sector in Wales'. In it he stated that his vision was that "by 2020 the quality of Welsh food will enjoy increased international recognition, food businesses will be more efficient and environmentally balanced with supply chains more integrated and will be adding far more value to our products here in Wales."

He went on to say that he planned to deliver this through market development, job creation, increased sales turnover and improved GVA (Gross Value Added). Mr Davies said he saw an urgent need to establish a Welsh Food and Drink Forum or Federation. His proposals are based on a seven area strategy focused around growth, and he stated that both the domestic and export markets have scope for development.

As well as continuing with the new Food and Drink Wales trade identity, Mr Davies stated that he would like to see more Welsh products gain the EU Protected Food Name designation. He also confirmed that both Russia and China were interested in Welsh Lamb and that that would be an area of focus.

The only specific reference to the smaller producer came in the following paragraph:

"We must work much more closely with the largest food and drink businesses in Wales to understand their intentions and the potential for growth. SMEs and micro-businesses dominate our food sector and are important at local, national and international levels. Their speciality products enhance Wales’ reputation for quality food. We propose to improve awareness of the business support available to encourage growth. Foreign Direct Investment is an area where I want to make Wales the first choice for international food companies to locate their manufacturing and value added processing" (my emphasis).

It is interesting to note that this reference is wrapped in a paragraph about big business and inward investment and, whilst recognising the dominance of the smaller firms, the emphasis is again firmly on growth.

On 26 October 2013, Mr Davies announced on Twitter that he was attending Cowbridge Food Festival, along with Jane Hutt. Ironically Cowbridge was a food festival that ran this year without any funding from the Welsh Government, having apparently received the paperwork so late that they were unable to apply. I asked Alun Davies via Twitter if he was getting any feedback from the producers over the fact that he had cancelled the True Taste awards with no consultation. Here is our conversation:

     @AlunDaviesAM: "With local AM Jane Hutt enjoying Welsh cakes in Cowbridge today. Proud to support Welsh food festivals."

     @gomezadams: "@AlunDaviesAM are any previous True Taste Winners in Cowbridge upset with you for canning the awards when they had achieved recognition?"

     @AlunDaviesAM: "@gomezadams No. Not at all. But much praise for new Food and Drink from Wales identity and support from Welsh Govt. All very positive."

     @gomezadams: "@AlunDaviesAM they must be scared of you 'cos that's not what they are saying to me. ;-) Where can I get the full details of FADFW identity?"

     @AlunDaviesAM: "@gomezadams I've received no correspondence at all on the matter. New food strategy will be launched next month."

     @gomezadams: "@AlunDaviesAM small producers afraid new identity is all about the big boys basically. Can I get on your mailing list for distribution?"

     @AlunDaviesAM: "@gomezadams The purpose of public support is to encourage growth and we will support all producers who wish to see their businesses grow."

 

So we are back to growth again and the pretty clear statement that unless a producer is focussed on business growth they are unlikely to get any form of state aid. So where does this leave the smaller producers who are often more focussed on survival than growth (I’m ignoring the fact that not a single producer has apparently raised any question about the demise of the True Taste Awards)?

In November the Minister was taking questions at the Senedd and during the debate stated "The Welsh Government is committed to supporting and promoting Welsh food and drink through a number of measures, including food tourism and festivals." An interesting comment, considering the budget for supporting food festivals was slashed by over 38%: down from £340,000 in 2012, to £210,000 in 2013.

Y flas wir - Cothi Valley Beacons Food FestivalY flas wir - Cothi Valley Beacons Food Festival image: © Corpulent Capers

In the same discussion, the Minister was asked by Mohammad Asghar AM, "What further incentives is the Welsh Government considering to promote and extend farmers’ markets in Wales?” and by Lindsay Whittle AM "You subsidise food festivals in Wales; why do you not subsidise farmers’ markets?" The Minister replied that the Farmers' Market movement was not something that had been created by Government, but that he would like to see Government and local authorities promoting and supporting the movement. He also said that there were legal issues around the state funding of farmers markets. Apparently, as Food Festivals are generally seen as one off events that are opportunities for producers to showcase their products, they are fundable. Farmers' markets, being more regular, are classed as normal retail opportunities.

So, there we have it. Of the various routes to market for small food producers, festivals and markets must be two of the most important. One has had funding cut by over a third over the last year (and there is no indication of the level of support it will attract in 2014) and the other can't be supported financially under the current regulations.

Y flas wir - Narberth Food FestivalY flas wir - Narberth Food Festival image: © Corpulent Capers

Alun Davies, in his position as Minister for Natural Resources and Food, will be launching the consultation document, 'Delivering Growth', at the Winter Fair in Llanelwedd, the first week in December. This consultation will be based on the recommendations of the Food and Farming Panel. If this document is a proper consultation that is open to all interested parties, then it must surely be in the best interests of the smaller producers to be as involved in the process as possible, as they may get left behind in the wake of those larger organisations that can deliver the growth results the Minister is seeking. I am told that, after the announcement, the consultation document will be available online here: www.wales.gov.uk/enviromentandcountryside/foodandfisheries.

Mark Adams, December 2013

Mark Adams blogs on Welsh food and drink at Corpulent Capers at www.corpulentcapers.com
Follow Mark Adams on Twitter at @gomezadams


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