Regular readers of this blog will know that I recently got the opportunity to attend the 2011 Wales The True Taste awards in Llandudno. As someone who is a regular visitor to Welsh restaurants, gastro pubs, farmers markets, farm shops and local producers I have been aware of True Taste for some time, mostly due to its logo. Whilst I knew it was some kind of award scheme that intimated there was some kind of merit in the establishment or product before me, I really had not grasped just how important Wales The True Taste is to the people in the Welsh food and hospitality industry.
So in October I found myself in Llandudno, sitting in Venue Cymru, with approximately 550 other people all in some way connected to the Welsh food and hospitality sector. Before us lay an evening in which 41 awards across 15 categories would be presented. Everyone who had won either a bronze, silver or gold award had been invited.
The first mind boggling fact was that this year’s 10th Anniversary competition had attracted some 1,017 entries from 366 companies large and small. All of which had been independently judged in regional heats. To me this immediately gave the Awards some measure of authenticity. People will simply not take the time and effort or make the inevitable financial investment, to enter themselves in a competition if no one values the prize.
Sharing my table at the awards were Hufenfa’r Castell of Harlech, who took the Silver Award for their Rhubarb Ice Cream and Cnwd (The Welsh word for crop, cn-ood rhymes with food) who took Bronze in the strangely named “Other Added Value Meat Products” for their Pork & Pistachio Terrine.
Throughout the course of the evening I got the opportunity to talk to these producers in some detail and also to meet and chat with many of the other Award Winners, some of whom I knew and some of whom were new discoveries. Two things stood out to me from all my conversations that evening 1) just how much everyone wanted to win that coveted Gold Award and 2) just how passionate these people are about their products and preserving the highest possible quality.
The food and hospitality industry seems to have no end of awards and prizes. Things like Michelin Stars, AA Rosettes, Catey Awards, Top 100, Best this and Best that seem to hang on the walls of just about every place I visit. So what is it that makes a True Taste Award stand out and allows it to drag over 500 people to North Wales on a school night?
Well, the first thing that occurs to me is that, unlike most of the other awards, the True Taste is all-inclusive. It covers food, drink and hospitality. Also it recognises the producer, the product and the provider. So whether you are the producer of an innovative food and drink product or simply excel in retail or hospitality you can be recognised by Wales, The True Taste.
Over its ten-year life span the True Taste Awards has become not only something recognised by consumers as a brand but also as a quality mark that helps to raise the awareness of the quality of Welsh Food and Drink both at home and abroad.
Currently we have
- the Welsh Government recognising that Food Tourism can and should be a major part of its overall Welsh Tourism Strategy
- a UK catering market worth in excess of £26 billion which presents a huge opportunity for Welsh producers
- and an increasing public interest in the origin and source of food.
Consequently initiatives such as The True Taste Awards can only do good for the people and producers of Wales. With over 55,000 people working in the food and drink sector in Wales it is vitally important that everything is done to not only to safeguard the industry but also to facilitate its expansion.
Fortunately this has been recognised by the producers themselves. They understand the value of the prize and the recognition it gives them for their hard work, innovation and passion.
It was impossible, as both a Welshman and a Food Lover, to be at the Awards and not feel both a tremendous sense of pride over the quality of our produce and also not to feel in awe of the dedication and hard work of all the producers, retailers and providers involved.
In the New Year I shall be taking up some of the invitations that were extended to me on the night and since. I shall be travelling to visit some of the winners to find out more about them, their products and services, and the effects that winning a Wales The True Taste Award has had.
Watch this space!
If you are reading this and would like me to visit a specific True Taste Award Winner (the full list is here) then drop me their name in the comment box below and I’ll see what I can do. Conversely if you are an Award Winner that would like us to visit then please leave me your contact details.