It was in 2001, that former management consultant Alexia Robinson conceived the idea of a British Food Fortnight. She recognised that although there were plenty of food initiatives, there was no overall flagship event that could capture public attention on a nationwide basis. So at harvest time in 2002 that was righted and the result is an event that is increasingly capturing the imagination – and support – of foodservice and retail produce buyers alike
“British Food Fortnight has been flying the flag for British Food for over 15 years and we are delighted to see so much enthusiasm around the UK with people getting involved in the celebrations,” says Robinson. “British Food is produced to the very highest standards, it really is some of the very best in the world and we are encouraging consumers to eat seasonally and to buy British produce.”
“Love British Food is an opportunity for producers to tell the public about their industries and the origins of food. Spread the enthusiasm about products and be advocates for the industry. Promotions run under our Love British Food Brand are proven to increase sales – it is a robust opportunity to promote your produce.”
The mere fact that an event such as this has survived so long is evidence that it is proving successful. Taking a look at feedback shows the extent of that success. Organiser, Love British Food, says that during British Food Fortnight sales per store increase by up to 30% increase as a direct result, 84% of new lines stocked for the promotion are retained in store, while sales of regional food and drink increase by up to £2,000 per store during the fortnight.
Media coverage is huge too; details of the British Food Fortnight are seen or heard over 300 million times every year in every type of media. It has even been mentioned on BBC Radio 4 The Archers, in a special edition of BBC TV’s Blue Peter, and in the headlines on the BBC News website.Feedback from previous years has led to some interesting conclusions. It is not enough simply to mention “local” on menus. Naming producers and farms attracts more attention. The more you tell customers about the origins of food, the more likely they are to buy it.
Participating businesses have indicated that it has benefited their businesses. The Mare & Foal is a rural pub in Crediton, Devon, which added the Love British Food logo to its menu together with regional and locally sourced dishes. It was busy every evening and weekend during the 2015 fortnight, seeing lots of new customers coming through the doors, and found Christmas reservations increasing as a result.
Meanwhile, Nottingham City Hospital set itself a challenge to source locally throughout the fortnight, while still fulfilling menus agreed months earlier – and succeeded, finding it cheaper than expected. To take another example, Blickling Hall, a National Trust venue, operated a menu in which everything came from within 15 miles of the property. This included blackberries, apples, celery, leeks and sweet potatoes. Sales increased by 5%. This was due solely to the special menu because tickets to visit the property are generally sold out by coaches at this time of the year.
Events for 2016
It has become one of the biggest food events in the UK, involving hundreds of activities over the two-week period, ranging from in-store promotions, a national competition in The Telegraph, to pub menus, school activities and a campaign to keep Harvest Festival on the national calendar.
Among the events are a Vegan Cookery course in Derbyshire, a funghi workshop in Culag Walks, Scotland and a Hampshire Farmers’ Markets Apple Harvest Festival. There is also an Isle of Wight sweetcorn festival and a special pear day at the National Fruit Collection, Brogdale in Kent.
Throughout the fortnight, consumers nationwide are being encouraged to take part by choosing British food, seeking out seasonal fresh produce like apples, plums, marrows and squashes and cook traditional British dishes. British Food Fortnight Ambassador, Raymond Blanc, has called for “everyone to celebrate British Food in homes and neighbourhoods across the land.”
Nor is it just consumer events. It also involves schools and hospitals for example education foodservice specialist Cucina is running an after-school programme for pupils and parents focusing on seasonal British ingredients. There are also education resources designed to encourage teachers to focus on British Food during classes.
The Freeman Hospital in Newcastle upon Tyne is showcasing a special menu with locally sourced produce and seasonal vegetables cooked in-house. Chef Raymond Blanc is leading a search for the most imaginative event celebrating British food with a special theme: rediscovering long-forgotten recipes that highlight a local area. Last year’s winner, Peterborough, is championing a menu consisting only of ingredients that come from the PE postcode while the 2014 winner, Emsworth in Hampshire, continues to support the event by holding activities throughout the town every year.
Food festivals are being held in every county throughout the UK. Typical of these festivals is the first ever Taste of Timbury, which showcases food and drink produced within a few miles of this Somerset village. On a wider scale within the county, Bath & North East Somerset Council is co-ordinating a programme of events and competitions culminating in The Great Bath Feast with gourmet produce and a new Bath Bites Food & Drink Fair.
The Great British Breakfast School Lunch is being held in primary schools throughout the county using only fresh, locally sourced ingredients. The fortnight is also being used as the launch pad for the council to launch an online Food Directory in partnership with Big Barn and Fresh-Range.com so that visitors and residents in the area can quickly find and buy local food and drink. According to Councillor Martin Veal: “The new Local Food Directory is a fantastic way to showcase the very best in local produce and support businesses across Bath and North East Somerset. Buying local not only helps the local economy, but helps the environment by cutting food miles.”
This year, the Co-op is sponsoring the event and has been involved in promoting British food all year. This is the first time the retailer has taken such a prominent role. Victoria Simons, spokesperson for the Co-operative Society sa:ys “Co-op Food is delighted to be the official sponsor. We know food provenance really matters to our customers, which drives our enthusiasm to invest in the UK economy to provide an opportunity for British food to have pride of place in our British aisles. The Co-op has a long history, tracing its roots back to 1844, and has been sourcing goods from across the UK since our inception. We continue to be a major supporter of British farming and home produced foods, trading with almost 2,000 UK farms and have over 500 suppliers from across the UK.”
The company regards British products as key staples within its stores. Research carried out by the Co-Op revealed that 73% of consumers had more confidence in British sourced food, 86% felt food was more traceable when produced on British farms and 84% felt that buying British sourced food was important to them. Meanwhile, 88% said that more should be done to back UK farming. Plans have already been made to increase still further the amount of British produce sold in store. According to Simons, investment in sourcing British goods stands at £500 million annually and the aim is to match or exceed this target for each of the next three years.
She says: “Shoppers say that supporting British is important to them. They want to see the UK have a sustainable farming industry and there is a huge groundswell of support and enthusiasm for more British food in shopping aisles. Consumers also demand strong pledges from supermarkets on sourcing from UK farms as home-grown products instil greater confidence, appear more traceable and, above all, are important to the vast majority of today’s shoppers. The foods or products shoppers most want to be British sourced include fresh vegetables and fresh fruit. The expectation exists and food retailers have to meet this challenge presented by shoppers. The Co-op is committed to stocking more UK sourced fruit and vegetables and ensuring labelling proudly promotes British sourcing.”