Talking Point: British Food Fortnight is a vital shop window for our produce, but funding is always a problem, writes Alexia Robinson
2-8 September 2005, p.81.
FARMERS WEEKLY ran a spirited editorial last year demanding £200,000 of funding for British Food Fortnight. Despite pressure on the government from the media and both Houses of Parliament, the contribution from the state this year is down from £46,870 to £45,125.
Thanks to sponsorship from Nationwide and Budgens, and contributions from many of the 40 organisations involved, I have cobbled together £108,000. From this I provide 26,000 schools with the definitive guide to teaching children about food; 24,000 shops, pubs and restaurants with advice on sourcing and promoting British food; distribute 53,000 "British Food -- Are you Eating it?" posters; manage the website and run the event office.
Last year I said it was iniquitous that a national event was being run as a cottage industry, but now I am rather proud that it is. From now on I direct my energy into showing the government how much can be achieved from so little.
People often ask how the event has grown so big given that I have run it largely single-handed. I remind them that I am but the activator of activists, many of whom already are doing much to promote British food, but who now concentrate their efforts during the Fortnight. The trick is in channelling their activities rather than reinventing the wheel.
British Food Fortnight is an event of the people for the people and not yet another top down initiative.
The reason state funding will forever be a problem is the EU rules forbidding the promotion of Britishness. Hence on every funding application, I scribble out "British" and replace it with the DEFRA-acceptable word "regional". But does the term "regional food" really resonate in Britain? I think not.
Nothing beats the good old county, but other than Yorkshire, which happily shares the same name as its region, no one mentions counties anymore. Being a Dorset girl, I get excited about Dorset food, not food from the non-descript sounding south west. Dorset Hobnobs, Dorset Blue Vinney and Dorset lamb. Am I alone?
In this vein, the most irritating question from a journalist this year has to be: "Are you about local food, regional food, organic food or farm-assured food?" Why and how did we ever make it so complicated?
Continuing on the subject of funding, the most annoying, but veiled as helpful, suggestion was: "Why don't you contact the levy bodies?".
Having some years ago helped 1MG, the sports management company, to try to relaunch the Milk Race, I know how hard this can be. It is time-consuming and building consensus between the bodies nigh impossible.
The sad reality is that there is no overall body representing British food producers and, therefore, there is no consensus, no unified marketing and no easy mechanism for raising funding on behalf of the industry as a whole.
Presumably because my problems with funding have been so widely publicised, my friends frequently congratulate me for doing something charitable. Much as it is tempting to pat myself on the back, I do not view my role as organiser of the BFF in this light. British Food Fortnight is a marketing exercise not dissimilar to that of any industry promoting its products to consumers. My role is, therefore, no more charitable than that of, for example, the marketing director of Nike running shoes.
I wonder if this is where the rural community sometimes goes amiss. Rather than feel sorry for ourselves, we need to deploy marketing techniques that have served other industries well. Asking the public to buy British food because they should feel sorry for farmers does not cut it.
Farmers producing quality produce, whatever their role in the food chain, and marketing it effectively will flourish. My role is to help develop the opportunities and consumer interest to make sure it is worth their while.
For details about events taking place near you, to download a copy of the school resource pack, the advice for retailers and caterers and for information on how to take part see www.britishfoodfortnight or phone 020 7840 9222.
Alexia Robinson is the founder and organizer of British Food Fortnight.
Brought up on a smallholding in Dorset, she now lives on a farm in south Gloucestershire.
British Food Fortnight is sponsored by Nationwide, Budgens and Booths.