Fears for future of Food Family starved of funds
THE CO-FOUNDER of Wexford Food Family has criticised Wexford County Council for failing to provide funding for the food industry which is one of the county's main employers.
Neil Murphy of Wexford Creamery and Glanbia said: 'If we don't get more funding we won't be able to continue as an organisation.'
Mr Murphy said Cork and Tipperary local authorities allocate around €100,000 annually for food related festivals and promotion, while Wexford County Council only allocates €25,000 to Wexford Food Family to run its events.
Wexford County Council CEO Tom Enright said the local authority supports Wexford Food Family and food producers thorughout the county through funding, which is also provided by the local enterprise office.
Every year the Wexford Food Family attract thousands of foodies to Wexford town for the Maritime & Food Festival.
Mr Murphy said this year around 100,000 will visit the town for the biggest ever festival. 'The festival is worth €2.2m to the town but this year's festival will be worth around €5m if we get the numbers.'
He said he was encouraged by the support Tom Banville of the council's Wexford Local Enterprise Office for his help in securing funding for the organisation which has 46 members.
He said Wexford County Council CEO Tom Enright and the council's economic development director Tony Larkin were invited to the Wexford Food Summit held in New Ross on March 1, but neither attended.
'Everyone is talking about jobs and the need to create jobs and to bring multinationals but our core business (in the county) is in agriculture and food.'
Mr Murphy said the annual food festival banquet - which takes over the weekend of Friday, June 30 to Sunday, July 2, on the quay in Wexford during the Maritime & Food Festival, attracts 125 people but he would like to see it expanded to 220 people.
'We can have this festival recognised as a national festival if we get the numbers. We have the Food Family Kitchen which sees 13 local chefs from top class restaurants doing cookery demonstrations over two days. Once again we are doing this on a peanut budget. It's just crazy! We get €15,000 for a three day festival. 1,800 people are employed by our members and that is not counting all of the farmers and the people employed in cafes and hotels and in indirect sales.'
Mr Murphy said he works in a voluntary capacity for Wexford Food Family, while there is a €100 per week budget to cover costs. 'Paula and I have put in around €200,000 in man and woman hours into this since we started it in 2011. We are the only fee based food organisation in the country. It's fine and you can see that it's working, but we get frustrated as the people outside looking in don't understand it and don't get it. We want to create County Wexford as the number one food region in the country. Wexford has so much going for it with the huge influx of tourists every summer. We want to have Wexford on the menu and on the shelves everywhere these tourists go telling the Wexford story.'
He said people who come to a county and purchase a product are 65 per cent more likely to buy it in their local shop when they return home because of the positive associations they will have with it from sampling it while on holiday.
Mr Murphy said with more funding Wexford could become a foodie destination, adding that it has already established a craft beer industry with well regarded brands.
'We published 11,000 copies of our food trail brochure and they were gone within two months. We have had Pettitt's and the Heritage Park and other businesses crying out for them, but we've no money to print any more. Tom Enright has spoken on the radio at length about his plan for the four towns. He has spoken about tourism and IT but he has never mentioned food.'
Mr Enright said: 'The food industry is something we are very supportive of. It's not all about local authority funding this. It has to be the food producers in the county also and it's important to try to get some funding through Enterprise Ireland.'
He said Tom Banville of the council's local enterprise office represented the body at the recent Wexford Food Summit, adding that he is very aware of the potential of the food industry in the county, even if he didn't discuss it on a radio interview.
'I can't comment on everything on the radio. The fishing industry is also very important to Wexford. Food is not only important in terms of the food producers, but also in terms of tourism as it is important for a county to have a vibrant artistan food offering.'
Mr Enright said the council's funds are limited, adding that management have to be careful about how they are spent.
He said the county's food offering was highlighted in a magazine published by Wexford County Council last year, adding 'there are a lot of things we do to support food producers in the county'.