Food for thought at tourism conference
Last updated at 12:16, Friday, 05 October 2012
Cumbria food producers should focus on making their products different to everything available elsewhere, rather than trying to make better versions of products that can be bought everywhere, according to celebrity food critic Jay Rayner.
The journalist and broadcaster made the call at a food tourism conference held as part of the Taste Cumbria food festival.
About 100 people, including food producers, hospitality business owners and representatives of public and private sector bodies, attended the event at Dovenby Hall last Friday.
Mr Rayner, one of four panellists answering questions at the event, said: “You’re selling a distinctiveness in what you do.
“Don’t go for what’s best and finest; go for distinctiveness. What makes you different?”
The other panellists at the event were Poul Christensen CBE, chairman of Natural England, Keith Jones MBE, area director for the Forestry Commission and chairman of the advisory group working on the world heritage site nomination for the Lake District, and Eric Robson, chairman of Cumbria Tourism.
Eden Valley hill farmer and rural campaigner James Rebanks, who compered the event, said Cumbria should be “a great version of itself, not a mediocre version of everywhere else”.
Promoting Cumbria food better should involve joining together the great landscape, food producers and hospitality industry, he added.
A study commissioned by Taste Cumbria showed that tourism brought £2.2 billion a year.
Helen Tate, of Red Research, told the conference that 40.1 million visitors came to the county in 2011, spending £429 million on food and drink.
Food is the third most important factor for people when choosing a short break destination, the research showed.
The results showed that the pub industry was a key part of the food tourism offer, with two thirds of visitors saying they would visit one during their stay.
The numbers interested in visiting farmers’ markets, farm shops and delicatessens are also up, according to the results.
But, while the quality of and demand are there, high prices can be a barrier to producing local food.
Mr Robson said that before the foot and mouth crisis the tourism industry and farmers were in different camps but since then they had realised they were in it together and moved towards co-operation and collaboration.
The conference heard that the concept of food miles, which previously led people to think local food was environmentally better, was a thing of the past, with evidence showing that some food from abroad had a lower overall carbon footprint.
Now food provenance is increasingly important, as shown by the rising popularity of allotments among parents of young children.
Mr Rebanks warned that those at the conference needed to act on the discussions to make a difference and avoid it being a talking shop.
The food producers agreed they would like to work closer together, under the Taste Cumbria umbrella, to promote Cumbria’s food offer.
Mr Rayner said: “The idea of Taste Cumbria as a group of entrepreneurs is the clearest message I have heard. It makes sense.
“Money is tight but it’s about attracting tourists. You’ve got to go out and find the tourists because they’re not going to come otherwise.”
First published at 11:50, Friday, 05 October 2012
Published by http://www.timesandstar.co.uk
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