A consortium of influential organisations are making in-roads to turn the tide for food producers in the South West. The Wellington Economic Partnership has seen a very poor economic climate for regional producers for a long time, but see a change occurring, now that the Supermarkets have suddenly woken up to the fact that a reduction in producers, may lead to a shortage in food supplies.
Encouraging producers and Supermarkets to come together, and get involved with the community at all levels and create a centre of food excellence, the Wellington Economic Partnership launched the Wellington Food Town initiative with a five year plan to promote the town as a focus for the area’s fantastic producers, and a wonderful food destination for visitors.
It was launched in December 2006 with a hugely successful one-day food event that attracted an estimated 5,000 people and boosted producers and town centre retailers, with an estimated £100,000 in sales. The second event in September 2007 was even more successful, with an estimated 10,000 visitors and a huge range of food stalls and entertainment. This July’s event has now expanded to two full days with visitors expected of around 20,000.
The catchment area for food and drink producers takes in an area with radius of approximately 30 miles from Wellington and therefore takes in much of Somerset and a large chunk of Devon, including Rick Stein Food Heroes and dozens of other award-winners.
Comprising of Taunton Deane Borough Council, Wellington Town Council, Wellington Chamber of Commerce and Trade and Wellington Farmers’ Market, Wellington Economic Partnership want the whole community to benefit. The idea of attracting many more visitors and shoppers to the town, is to stimulate all the businesses with more customers, a higher level of trade and therefore more opportunity for the expansion of economic activity within the community. It is hoped that this, in turn, will lead to more jobs and the opening of new businesses.
John Pragnell, who chairs the Wellington Economic Partnership committee, expanded further on the subject via interview:
Q. What, in your view, is the current economic climate for the producers in the region?
The current climate is very poor! Over a long period there has been a very poor return for Farmers and Food Producers, with prices paid by the Supermarkets and others being held down in order to increase their own profits. This has made food production increasingly uneconomic as costs rise. Many producers are going under or just giving up as they find they can no longer make a living in the industry.
Q. How do you see this changing in the future?
A change is occurring now that the Supermarkets have suddenly woken up to the fact that this reduction in producers may lead to a shortage in food supplies. They have now started to increase the prices paid to producers, but is it too late? Although the returns to the producers have increased, there has been a constant increase in running costs. Just like us, they have to run vehicles and use energy to tend and feed their animals or manufacture their food products. The increased cost of cereals affects them just as it affects us.
Q. What can producers do to help boost business, not just locally but nationally for themselves?
There has been a tremendous increase in the popularity of whole foods and locally produced food. We are all aware of the upsurge in TV and radio programmes, plus magazine articles about healthy living. Producers can boost their own businesses by supporting any initiative that promotes the use of locally grown or organic food. They need to encourage customers to use these products and help educate them on how to prepare and cook this high quality, natural food. I think everyone is more aware of the opportunity to enjoy good natural healthy food and are keen to benefit from the abundance of information being put out by the media.
Q. The Wellington Food Town event won’t just help producers, but ultimately draw more custom to the region. How do you see this happening?
We hope that our five year plan will establish Wellington Food Town as a regional centre of excellence that encourages many more people to visit the town in search of our producer’s quality products. We plan to expand our program of awareness by encouraging existing businesses to expand as the number of customers increase and new businesses establish here. With the increasing success of Food Town over those five years, we hope to involve many more customers from throughout the region to come to Wellington to shop. Last year we attracted visitors from Bristol, throughout Somerset, Devon and Dorset; we hope to attract many more customers from adjoining Counties but not only to the Food Festival. We want them to have such a successful visit that they regularly come to shop here throughout the year
Q. How will you encourage future generations to eat more healthily?
We are also involving our children in the quest to enjoy good natural food. Our own efforts in this area are already bearing fruit! In the weeks leading up to our Festival on the 5th & 6th of July we are arranging visits to the local schools by celebrity chefs and dieticians to involve the children in designing their own menu and being shown how to use fresh natural foods to create the dishes of their choice. They have already shown a keen interest in the project and we are looking forward to harnessing and encouraging their enthusiasm.
Q. How would you like businesses to get involved to make this happen?
By whole heartedly backing Food Town and taking part in the Festival. All types of businesses should be involved. They should make sure they can stay open to trade during the two days of the Festival, have eye-catching promotional materials available for customers and make sure their business premises are so attractive that customers can’t stay away. We can direct customers to those premises in our promotional materials, if they commit to taking part. Last year’s Festival was such a success because we had the backing of 70 volunteers from all sections of the community. With that level of commitment from everyone, Food Town will be a success for not just the inhabitants of Wellington but the whole Region. We live in a region where first class quality food is produced. We are proud of that and prepared to shout about it.
Any organisation wishing to take part in the Wellington Food Town by taking stand space should contact Heidi Gains on 07772 600615. Alternatively, for a bigger profile, sponsorship opportunities are available. For sponsorship, contact Caroline Bramwell on 01271 375393. For more information on the event itself, visit www.wellingtonfoodtown.co.uk.
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