The Not Norfolk Show

I was at the Royal Norfolk Show this year helping on a client’s stand in the food hall. It’s actually the first time I’ve been (for various reasons) but next year I definitely want to go along as a visitor. I had a long tiring day but learnt a lot and enjoyed it.

Now maybe my view was some what unfairly biased by working in the food hall and not getting to see much outside but my lasting memory was how much of the show was not very Norfolk and most sadly that was the view from within the food hall.

Food is something I think Norfolk does rather well at but I’d say that probably less than 50% of the stalls in the food hall we’re producers from within Norfolk and that to me just seemed totally wrong and a big big shame as there’s so much to offer.

Not Norfolk
Opposite myself was a Mediterranean stand selling a strange combination of deli olives and pastries/cakes. They were from Bedfordshire. To our right was a cider seller from Herefordshire. Adjacent to us a pork pie maker from Blackburn (they claimed to have fresh pork scratchings but I have evidence to the contra) and behind us a Geordie selling German salami!

It seems that some retailers’ business model is just visiting county and region shows, that’s all they do. That in itself I think is an interesting subject when it’s analysed but not really what this blog post is about.

Now I think that Norfolk producers could of easily filled that shed with their wares with a queue waiting to get in so where were they all? I know that the organisers struggled to get Norfolk producers in the door so what was the trouble? Was it he cost? Did dates clash? Are business owners short sighted to the potential?

What were the barriers?
Yes it’s not cheap to exhibit there and yes you need to take 2 long days out, it’s hard work. But and it’s a big but the food hall gets rammed. The potential exposure is huge. If you have a half decent product you’ll break even easily and then 1000′s of people will know about you and your goods.

You could easily spend what it costs to exhibit on a smallish advert in the paper and you would have no interaction or engagement with the people reading that newspaper unlike the show where your customers can talk to you the business owner or your staff.

Other reasons for exhibiting would be the contacts you could make would be invaluable, sharing stories with other producers perhaps even solving problems? Maybe meeting new suppliers yourself? The time out from the usual run of the mill business grind could give you fresh impetus. When you think about it there are lots of reasons for doing it.

If the costs are truly prohibitive and are the problem then perhaps grants could be looked at? New Anglia LEP etc? I don’t know about these things but I feel sure something could be done to remove as many barriers as possible.

Let’s hear it for our local Norfolk producers and let’s see them at next year’s Norfolk Show in 2012 and see that shed 100% full with them!

Were you at the show? What are you thoughts. Should local producers fill the hall or does it not matter? Please leave your comments below.


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  1. Interesting views Gary and I tend to agree with them – I too spotted a number of very non-Norfolk producers (some better than others) and wondered why locals weren’t better represented.

    Looking for some decent bread, and having skirted the Mediterranean stand, I came across a bread stall that looked OK but carried no name. In a rush I bought what they claimed to be a sour dough loaf and headed home – only to find it was a bland pappy bread masquerading as an artisan product (not a hint of sour dough to my taste buds) – I should have saved my pounds and gone to Dozen on Newmarket Street – a shop that still sells real bread.

    For what it’s worth, the Norfolk Show has improved (I have been a few times over the last 40 years). There are more local food producers and their produce is much better. However, there still seems to be a large number of what I can only describe as corporate, mock regional stands. These appear to be supplied by one or two companies that can put up 20 such stalls at 20 different venues on the same day (all staffed by temporary workers never the real owners).

    I am sure cost is an issue – but I suspect the attitude of the show organisers also plays its part – perhaps they don’t realise how much people value local producers – as such, perhaps they don’t go out of their way to make the food hall a showcase for the very best of Norfolk food and drink – let’s hope the EDP Food Festival does a better job in the autumn.

    Kind regards


  2. Perhaps another topic for the FSB to consider in partnership with the organisers of the Norfolk Show?

  3. As Brays Cottage Pork Pies (not the stand opposite Gary!) and from Norfolk, this was our fourth year at the show and we love it. The Food Hall is slowly getting more local producers and the visitors certainly appreciate that. It is expensive when compared to a Farmer’s Market stall but we always sell far more pies than at any other event and you are right Gary about the contacts you can make and the visibility it gives.

    It is two very long days and takes quite a bit of recovering from, but for us at least, it’s very well worth while.

  4. Hi Gary,
    We try to promote Norfolk with our eating out directory but also on Twitter/FB etc we try to encourage people to use their local but also use their local producers too.

    I am also on the committee for the Wayland Show and we have a Taste of Norfolk marquee that we are trying our hardest to fill with purely Norfolk produce. I am happy to say that nearly 100% of our traders are Norfolk based and we’re proud of this because, as you say, Norfolk is packed full of wonderful producers and we should be shouting about it more (see Norfolk Diet!).

    Sadly though it has been quite a task getting purely Norfolk and not having overlapping trades (which we try to avoid) – for example fish – we cannot find any fish suppliers in Norfolk that wish to exhibit and yet we live on the coast and have some of the best seafood in the country. Why do none of the fish shops or suppliers want to have a stand? Who knows!? It’s only £75 to exhibit for the day – which I think is incredibly reasonable cost of advertising your business to over 10,000 visitors.

    We have contacted many, many businesses and have various reasons for then not coming. Some have been cost, some have been due to being booked in with another show already, other reasons I’m not sure.

    But we’re still trying and we will be proudly standing by on the day and saying that Norfolk food is wonderful and hoping that our visitors start thinking more carefully about where there food comes from and start supporting the local growers and producers so we can see this wonderful area blossom even more.

    Well done for the article – very relevant! :)

    • Oh – and by the way, very proud to be at the Wayland Show AND at the Sandringham Flower Show which also has a 100% Norfolk producers tent.

  5. Very interesting comments from Sophie.

    Delighted to hear about the Taste of Norfolk marquee – £75 for a stand at the Wayland Show certainly seems like good value, particularly if it reinforces the ‘made in Norfolk’ appeal of your brand. What a great opportunity to encourage lots of people to try your food/drink – and to get to know you personally as a passionate, specialist (remember: people buy people).

    Am amazed at the lack of a good fish stall – but am equally amazed at the apparent lack of good fishmongers (have yet to find one in Norwich). Considering these shows come round every year at about the same time – and play an important role in community life – I find it odd that local producers don’t consider them red-letter days.

    Good luck with the show – another good reason to #VisitNorfolk.

    Kind regards


  6. I know we talked about this a lot on the day Gary and I have since spoken to the organisers and some local producers who were not represented at the show.

    There is a bit of a blame culture going on, together with the usual apathy. Both of these are easy banners to hide behind and neither is particularly constructive. Organisers bemoan the fact that they couldn’t get local producers of certain product groups and local producers say that they are never contacted prior to the show about having a stand.

    Picking up on Huw’s bread comments, I spoke to Stephen at Dozen this morning and he said that they’ve never been approached by anyone about having a stand at the show. Whether they would have taken up the offer, who knows, but it would certainly put all of the other ‘real’ bread sellers there to shame.

    One worrying thing is that visitors to the show, keen to try local produce, may have sampled some of the wares of what they may have thought were ‘local’ producers and have been mightily disappointed. I know I was and I didn’t even pay for what I tried! This could have an influence on their future buying decisions, in that ‘Oh yes, I tried some local produce at the Show and it was expensive and mediocre, I’ll stick with the supermarkets thanks.’

    For us it was a successful show in that we were able to connect with existing, new and potential customers face to face which is difficult for us to do normally as we are an online business. It also gave us a chance to showcase some of our suppliers who were at the show, and we can only hope that they did the same for us.

    A good piece again Gary and thanks for your help at the Show!

  7. Briony De'Ath

    I have to declare a slightly vested interest as my husband is a Steward in the Food Hall. I heartily agree that it would be fantastic to see even more local producers exhibiting in the Food Hall (and throughout the whole show). I’m not quite sure how or why the show’s organisers (not my husband by the way!) should be expected to do much more to publicise the show (next year’s dates have been available for ages and contact details are readily available). If a business, local or otherwise, doesn’t see the potential to a) sell heaps of their product and b) engage with existing and potential customers at an event attended by almost 100k people then surely that’s their lookout? The local businesses who do exhibit show not only their great products but also their business acumen and forward thinking. Good luck to them. Maybe we, as individuals should be asking our favourite shops etc why they’re not at the show and not accepting the excuse that ‘we weren’t asked’. It’s not an invite only affair. The same goes for the EDP Bidwells Norfolk Food Festival. Essentially it’s free to take part – all a business needs to do is put on some sort of ‘event’ or local product and let the organisers know about it. Easy and terrific exposure. Still some businesses choose not to take part…

  8. I agree with Briony’s comment in that it’s not as if the show is a secret gig and whilst the organisers could perhaps do a bit more to encourage local businesses to attend, perhaps by engaging with organisations such as Tastes of Anglia and Produced in Norfolk, the producers themselves must shoulder a good deal of the blame for their absence. Sure, some don’t have the manpower, time or inclination to attend but there is a bigger picture and this is the biggest exposure to local food enthusiasts available in the County with far more bangs for bucks than other forms of marketing and advertising, and it’s all face to face!

  9. Fair point Briony – was going to say something similar – not sure where this idea that you have to wait for an invite comes from (much as I love Dozen, I can’t help feeling this is a poor excuse). As I said previously, these events should be red-letter days for any local producer.

    Paul’s point about engaging with local organisations is an interesting one. I confess I have never heard of Tastes of Anglia (have just followed them on Twitter – thanks Paul). However, I picked up a leaflet from Produced in Norfolk when at the show and was surprised that they don’t appear to have a facebook page or a twitter feed (not even for their retail brand, Shop Norfolk). Now I know that Social Media is not a marketing panacea but it has to form part of the mix.

    It also made me think that perhaps part of the problem for the show organisers is that there are too many such organisations and so no single point of contact. If these trade groups were private companies, they would probably merge to benefit from economies of scale (Buy Local Norfolk would be another candidate for consolidation) – but that suggestion will probably draw cries of anguish from all involved. (They could also create an umbrella brand for all their members – but that’s another discussion.)

    All that aside, Paul’s final point is the most important: “This is the biggest exposure to local food enthusiasts available in the County with far more bangs for bucks than other forms of marketing and advertising, and it’s all face to face!”

    So if you are a local producer I have one suggestion: get planning for next year – now!

    Kind regards

  10. The effort that goes into two days at the show shouldn’t be underestimated, and you do have to keep the rest of your business going too, which if you have a shop is a fairly big challenge. And, as with any marketing, it’s best to be sure of your reasons. But I do think that if you have a really good product then it’s a very cost effective way of getting that in front of people. And it’s a networking opportunity second to none.

    As part of yet another Norfolk food group, The Norfolk Diet, (very much on social media!) we should think about what we can provide by way of information and encouragement for next year.

    The first year that we, as Brays Cottage, did the show was our first full year in business, but we took the initiative to approach the organisers and go for it!

  11. Sarah’s absolutely right that taking two days out from your shop/kitchen is a huge commitment for any small business. However, the success of Brays Cottage suggests that these shows are worth the effort. Perhaps it would make sense for the various producer groups to run collective stalls for those members that can’t run their own. (Apologies if they do – I didn’t see any.)

    The Norfolk Diet group is particularly interesting since, as far as I know, it hasn’t received any public funding (unlike some of the other groups). Instead it has been set up by food enthusiasts for food enthusiasts. Perhaps that’s why it does such an excellent job of engaging with customers who appreciate fine food and drink. You can also see the passion of its members reflected in the new Norfolk Diet Farmers Market (#NDFM) in Norwich.

    Perhaps it’s time for the other groups to start working more closely with The Norfolk Diet?

    Kind regards

  12. As another practical issue to keep in mind for small producers, I talked to Sam of Fielding Cottage Goat Cheese at the show and he explained that for them, they only have a finite amount they can produce (having a finite number of goat udders!) so the show wasn’t a possibility for them. They wouldn’t suddenly be able to double production for show week and then switch it off again the next week.

    On your point Hugh, Norfolk Diet has almost no money at all (other than from one small fund raiser Dr Tim & I did, a donation, and the small profit from the last Farmer’s Market – the up-front venue hire fee was loaned by one of the stall holders!). It would be nice to have some funds so we could do a few more things in the future and not have to rely on time & expertise always given for free, but we’re pretty proud of and a bit amazed by what we’ve done on next to nothing and it keeps us lean and keen! But perhaps in the future…

  13. I’ve done three county shows this year – Lincoln, Norfolk and the Suffolk. Without doubt, the Norfolk had THE most local stands of all of them. The Food Hall at the Norfolk is the most representative of any of the local shows of the talent of local producers. If you had gone to the Suffolk there were about 25% of stands from anyone in East Anglia. Perhaps in that respect we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves.

    For me there are a couple of points to consider:
    [1] The cost……..bigger shows are very costly. For people who regularly do Farmers Markets etc, the step up in cost is really really steep. The cost of a regular 3m x3m stand is £415, which is discounted to £280 for Norfolk producers. That’s a reasonable reduction and more generous than the Suffolk for instance [£390 with a £70 rebate for Taste of Anglia producers]. If you compare that to a Farmers Market of £20/£25 then its a lot more!
    [2] Staffing…… need people to help. Paul used Gary, Sarah used her OH, I used my mum/stepdad. Its a major consideration, and I guess if you were running a shop too, then just being able to switch on new people is tough. As per previous comments then people want to speak to the owner, but if you are trying to spread yourself all over the place then that’s hard!
    [3] Product……..Its really hard to forecast how much you are going to sell. For a ‘fresh’ product this is even harder – anything you don’t sell you need to dispose of. This can eat into margins. I was opposite a cupcake stall at the Lincoln Show who threw away dozens of cupcakes at the end of the two days – a really sad sight to see.

    The ‘established’ players on the Show circuit [the Yorkshire Pork Pies, the Hereford Cider, Deli Med etc] do upwards of 100 shows a year. They are better equiped with permanent ‘teams’ of people to man the stands at the various shows [often in various locations in the showground]. If they don’t sell everything at one show they can move on to the next one and sell it there – that gives them much better cushioning on the stock front.

    I love the Norfolk Show and its the first show on the sheet at the beginning of the year when I am deciding what to do!

  14. The other day, while I was at work, my sister stole my apple ipad and tested to see if it can survive a twenty five foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation. My iPad is now destroyed and she has 83 views. I know this is entirely off topic but I had to share it with someone!


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