Last weekend I ventured out of Newcastle-under-Lyme to the big city. No, not Manchester or Birmingham, but that London. I tied on my money belt, and packed my How-to-Talk-to-Southerners phrase book. That London's got a lot fancier, and busier, since I left in 2001 for the bright lights of New York. It took me from leaving the train until the top of the escalators at the Underground before I got irritated (a new record).
I was attending the Bread and Butter Food Festival at the Institute of Directors on Pall Mall. Even the chandeliers had chandeliers. It's an inaugural festival for food entrepreneurs, with lots of different producers from all over the country. It was a 2 day event with some really gorgeous handmade products, home-grown fruit, importers and lots of other businesses which focus on supporting the food industry. The event kicked off with Whole Foods giving an introduction into how to work with them. Their corporate mission and strategy were inspiring. It became clear that what's going on at the Corporate HQ filters through to the shop floor, I was literally reminded of my weekly shops in Westport, CT! (On that subject, any chance of bringing Annie's salad dressings over here? The shitake one in particular... worth a try). Next was Craig Sams from Green and Blacks. What can I say? The man's a legend, it was refreshing to hear such straight-talking and his continued commitment to both food and the environment were impressive.
For me though Marcus Carter from the Artisan Food Club nailed his presentation. He's busy building bridges between artisan makers and the shops that they supply. It was telling that only four of us in the room admitted to selling at farmer's markets. Why? Because it's real hard graft where you are often treated to an instant reaction from your customers with regards to price, taste, etc. As a shop owner I support other local businesses whenever possible. My tea and coffee guys are both great to work with and provide high quality products at a reasonable price. That said, I have other suppliers who seem to think that they are doing me a favour in letting me buy their food. As a former producer Marcus had an excellent perspective on both how tough this gig is for makers and how shop keepers constantly need an eye on the bottom line.
I loved having the opportunity to try out a new product on the Tasting Panel, and receive feedback on taste, packaging, etc. In our bakery we spend time educating customers with regards to the type of flours that we use, and the benefits of each. I found myself explaining why we were choosing to use a specific flour for our free from ready to bake cookie dough which I hadn't expected to do with these sophisticated buyers.
Finally I met some innovative food packaging specialists from Staffordshire. http://bandgproducts.com/uk/home/. Kind of funny that I'd travelled to London to meet a company based half an hour down the road. As I've said before we food producers need to get our act together locally.http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/../../laura-krippner/shop-local-especially-if-_b_12775292.html There's no reason why we can't be the next Ludlow, particularly with Stoke-on-Trent's upcoming UK city of culture bid. I returned Northwards the next day with both a clearer sense of purpose and a significantly lighter money belt.