We take a look at what trends are emerging in how British consumers shop and eat. Are our habits changing in response to growing awareness of diet-related health? How will Brexit affect our shopping baskets? And how is social media changing our relationship with food?
You can no longer ignore social media. For small businesses or your personal brand it's a high impact and low cost way to raise your profile. It's an opportunity to reach new audiences - customers, journalists and influencers. But it can be overwhelming and where do you start? Here are my top tips for getting started on social media:
PR is a powerful and effective way to raise awareness, to build loyalty and drive sales. But with so many brands fighting for so few column inches, how do you make sure your story makes it to the top of the page. Here are 10 Tips for developing a successful PR campaign, whether you are running it yourself or working with a PR agency.
Almost half of UK consumers shop online for groceries now with younger shoppers more likely to choose online over in-store.
For food and drink brands it is crucial to understand how consumers are using online anytime and any place to buy their groceries, and to ensure that their products are front of mind and interest is converted into sales.
Today's consumers are constantly connected. The mass adoption of smartphones, tablets and social media result in an always switched-on culture. Food websites have overtaken cookery books as a source of inspiration and we cook along to videos.
What does this mean for food brands?
Website design and development has moved on a long way in the last few years and you don't need to feel so daunted by building a new website, even a full ecommerce site needn't cost thousands and take months of work. Squarespace is a really simple and efficient solution to building your own website in my favourite platform, Squarespace.
I was really honoured to be invited to be a regional judge for the inaugural Delicious Magazine Producer Awards. There are numerous food and drink awards these days including the ubiquitous Guild of Fine Food Great Taste Awards which receives tens of thousands of entries every year seeking the recognisable gold stars to adorn their products.
But there were no national awards which truly celebrated the best best artisan food producers, small scale farmers or makers, recognising their dedication and skill as well the provenance and taste of their products. Back in January 2016 the magazine asked readers to nominate their favourite dairy farms, fishermen, butchers, bakers and farms - 650 nominations were received.
I was asked to judge entries for the East of England alongside far better qualified judges, food writer Thane Prince and chef Galton Blackiston. We spent an entertaining couple of hours reviewing all the entries to the area from tiny producers of chutneys and cakes available in a few local markets to some of East of England's most well known products from oysters to rhubarb. The process was rigorous scoring each entry on a number of criteria and Thane kept us all focussed and impartial!
Our shortlist duly submitted to the final panel that included Prue Leigh, Peter Gordan and Sophie Grigson as well as Delicious editor, Karen Barnes and we all had to wait patiently until October when the winners were announced in the October magazine.
I'm delighted to say that one of our favourite entries from the region went on to win the From the Earth Category - Hodmedod's Organic Quinoa was praised by the judges who said "We love the fact that it's grown in the UK. Plus the flavour is excellent: buttery and nutty, with a texture that pops in the mouth."
You can see the full list of winners on the Delicious Producer Awards Winners.
It would be possible to spend every weekend of the year at a food festival - every city has one and most counties have more than one. Newspapers regularly recommend the best and there’s at least one website dedicated to helping us navigate them - it currently lists 338 - almost one for every day of the year. There’s sausage festivals, oyster festivals and local to me there’s an irregular Herring Festival and even the Peasenhall Pea Festival.
While I’ve overheard many a punter complaining about having to pay to go into a “glorified farmers market”, we still flock to food festivals in our thousands, they’re the new local fete or day at the fair and the civilised festival experience for those who don’t like camping and smelly loos.
But what do we find to do at these festivals? We get stall upon stall of indistinguishable jams and over-the-top cupcakes swamped by people eating their body weight in samples with no intention of parting with any cash. We fight our way through a stampede of buggies only to decide it’s too far back to the car to bother buying any meat and veg and we’ll stop off at Tesco on the way home.
We see the same band of hungover chefs, touted out by their publishers to publicise their latest book, being marched bleary-eyed onto the stage only to burn the onions because, after a night of boozing, it’s as much as they can do to string sentence together, let alone cook at the same time. Even without the help of hangovers the demos can be chaotic with missing ingredients, stoves that don’t work and interruptions from crying kids, snoring grandpas and ringing phones. If you’re really lucky they’re might even be a video screen focussed on a pile of washing up!
Don’t get me wrong, I am a great fan of food festivals, particularly the old guard and the innovators. Ludlow, the first in the UK founded in 1995 and Abergavenny, four years later, still have their hearts deeply rooted in celebrating local, seasonal food and drink - a harvest festival for 21st century. There are innovators like Bristol Food Connections which engages the whole city and both entertains and educates. These festivals are run on shoe-string, dependent on funding and hard-working volunteers to make them happen.
But there are too many that have just jumped on the band waggon with high ticket prices, corporate sponsors and an army of street food vendors serving raw burgers, warm beer and over-cooked paella with no local connections and ingredients from the cash and carry.
Meanwhile dedicated farmers and producers get up at crack of dawn come rain or shine, drive hours every weekend, to farmers markets which struggle to keep going because we’re not using them. You’ll find them there every weekend - because we need to eat every day not just on food festival day. You don’t have to buy a ticket, you can park close by and you can buy fantastic meat, veg and bread - quality everyday food, not just for treats.
We need to stop seeing food as entertainment, going to food festivals to scoff all the samples andspot our favourite celebrity chef in the flesh. Neither should it be the one day of the year we choose to shop from local food and drink producers - we should support them all year because they are there for us all year and we need to eat everyday.
Long live food festivals - but longer live farmers markets!
The original version of this article appeared in Delicious Magazine September 2016.
School of Artisan Food: Food for Though Lectures
It's a long old way to drive from east Suffolk to the depths of Sherwood Forest and beyond to the School of Artisan Food, but the annual Food for Thought Lectures have become a firm fixture in my calendar.
The School of Artisan Food was founded around the same time I started Food Safari with a similar ethos to teach people about food with hands-on courses with a particular focus on fermentation - from bread, to cheese, beer and curing meat. Its home is an incredibly grand building which housed the fire engines for the enormous (15,000 acres!) Welbeck Estate, home to the Dukes of Portland.
The Food for Thought Lectures run over a May weekend as two days of talks and discussions with some of the country's most interesting and engaging food writers, journalists and chefs. The audience is small, intimate even, and it's a lovely opportunity to meet new people and chat with old friends. The programme has no specific theme and discussions including the inimitable Jeremy Lee of Quo Vadis entertaining us with food memories and some favourite food books from Eliza Acton, to Florence White and Dorothy Hartley.
Joanna Blythman talked on the subject of her latest book Swallow This about the problems of processed food and so called 'Clean Labels'; Bee Wilson spoke on her brilliant book First Bite: How we Learned to Eat and the inspiring school food campaigner, Jeanette Orrery, talked about her in-the-field experience of school food and the incredible work she's done on the School Food Plan.
We also heard from some of my favourite chefs and food writers, Olia Hercules, Itmar and Sarit from Honey & Co; food historian Ivan Day and art historian Andrew Graham Dixon.
I will certainly be back next year.