Dorset is one of England’s 48 counties and is to be found in the South West of England. The South West is famous for its food and drink, including dairy products (cheddar cheese and clotted cream), grass fed beef and lamb (such as Devon Red Ruby Beef), vegetables (Cornish new potatoes and Devon swedes) and drinks such as cider, cider brandy and increasingly wine. Dorset in particular has three native breeds of sheep; produces fantastic dairy products such as Dorset Blue Vinny cheese; blue berries and has many fine herds of Devon Red Ruby cattle. This food is produced within a landscape whose value has been protected with numerous designations and includes much of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. The area also has a rich cultural heritage extending back thousands of years to before the Roman occupation.
Dorset tourism, food and drink
Tourism is very important in Dorset. In 2014 it attracted 3.4 million visitors who made overnight stays and 25.5 million day visitors. This generated £2.5 billion of business turnover and supported approximately 47,000 jobs or 13% of employment within the county (TSWRC 2015). Local authorities and providers of facilities for visitors are keen to grow this sector of the economy and in particular to increase quality of provision, visitor spend and length of the season. Dorset has great potential in terms of the gastronomic experiences on offer, but currently this area has not been developed as well as it might have been. There is, therefore, significant interest in understanding what tourists value. Gastronomic experiences range from the consumption of food and drink as a basic part of a visit; more elaborate meals in cafes, restaurants and hotels; visits to delicatessens, farm shops and farmers markets; visits to specific food and drink-based attractions such as farms and vineyards; and attendance at events such as food festivals. There are many such festivals in Dorset and one example is the Eat Dorset Food Fair. This takes place in West Dorset and was the focus for a piece of research looking at the visitor and stall holder perceptions.
The Eat Dorset Food Fair
A range of research methods were deployed, however, here we will just focus on the discussion of the results of a questionnaire completed over two days by 172 visitors to the Festival and a separate stallholder questionnaire. More than two thirds of the visitors responded were women and there was a skew towards an older profile, with over 40% of the respondents being 60 years or older. The majority of visitors came with family (61%) or friends (32%), in groups of between two and four. When asked why they had come, and given a range of potential answers, the key factors were that it was a good opportunity to buy local food (72% of respondents agreeing), it supported the local community/economy (56%), it was a lovely environment (47%), the local provenance of the food and drink (31%) and that it supported sustainability (25%). Other factors included:
Family atmosphere 22%
Other people here with similar values 20%
Good value 16%
In terms of the stallholders the primary reasons why they thought that customers wished to buy their food or drink were ideas of quality, honesty, supporting the community, distinctiveness and the use of traditional methods (see figure 1.)
Figure 1: Producer perceptions as to reasons for custom (number of respondents)
Visitors and producers were asked to elicit free associations about the food fair. Keller et al (2008) recommends open measures to determine the strength of any brand, and in this context it was considered that brand theory might be a useful way of looking at the event. The tie in to the locality, ideas of variety, quality and the specific setting an environment where all key factors. The following word cloud (see Figure 2) illustrates the relative importance of the associations.
Figure 2: word cloud to illustrate the relative importance of visitor and producer free word associations about the fair
In terms of increasing the quality of provision, the amount that visitors spend and the length of the season, there are a number of strategies that can be employed. The holding of events, such as the Eat Dorset Food Fair, is an example that contributes to this strategy, whilst at the same time helping to realise the potential of food and drink to contribute to the tourist experience and to develop as a sector in its own right for locals as well as tourists. In all this it is important for organisers to understand that factors such as the local connection, variety, quality and the specific setting are key to developing a sustainable gastronomy tourism event in particular and sector in general.
Keller, K.L., Aperia, T. And Georgson, M., 2008. Strategic Brand Management, A European Perspective. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited
TSWRC, 2015. The economic impact of Dorset’s visitor economy 2014