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Byron Shire
May 20, 2024

Food Festival Frenzy

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The leadup to Sample Food Festival 2017 (Sat 2 September) seems like a good time to reflect on the rising popularity of food festivals.

To make sure it isn’t just we at The Echo who are noticing this trend. I asked Tourism Australia their view. ‘We know from our research that food and wine are now important drivers of destination choice, and that is certainly translating into an increasingly popularity among travellers for food festivals,’ says Leo Seaton, from the peak body for international travellers to Australia.

Figures show that good food and wine are the prime emotional factors for choosing a destination for more than one-third of international travellers, and that half of all travellers are hungry for food-and-wine events (Tourism Australia’s pun, not mine!).

Interestingly, for international visitors, Australia does not rate so highly as a food-and-wine destination before they visit here for the first time. Once they have, Australia is rated only behind France and Italy as a top-quality destination for food. This means that Australia’s reputation for great food does not necessarily precede it, something Tourism Australia is working on changing since this research was conducted (2013). It also, one hopes, means that there are a lot of restaurants enjoying positive reactions from customers whose expectations have been completely exceeded!

You may think that international visitors are not the prime audience for Sample and other local food festivals. In the main you are right though Sample organiser Remy Tancred tells me that she knows of many visitors to Sample visiting from overseas, particularly New Zealand and China. She also says that these visitors, as well as those from farther-away places in Australia, tend to come to both the main festival day as well as lead-in lunches and dinners.

Remy’s figures show that nearly half of Sample’s visitors are from northern NSW. Another quarter travel for the day or the weekend from a slightly wider circle – from NSW’s mid north coast up to southeast Queensland.

The northern rivers currently sits at number three for regions within NSW that Australians are considering visiting because of our food and wine (after the Hunter Valley and the Blue Mountains). This is according to 2015 research conducted by Destination NSW, which identifies that one in six Australian travellers, mainly aged 25–44, describe themselves as passionate about food and wine and actively seek out events where they can learn and interact with growers and chefs.

This fits with Tourism Australia’s view about why people like events such as Sample. ‘Great food-and-wine experiences are about people, produce and place. Festivals are a perfect combination of all three,’ says Leo Seaton.

Perhaps most importantly for locals, events such as Sample give a boost to our local economy. Tourism Australia’s website notes that food and wine (and I’ll assume this also covers coffee and beer!) now account for one in every five dollars spent by international tourists in Australia.

Destination NSW agrees that events such as Sample are important for local economies, with Sample Food Festival recently awarded funding as a regional flagship event. ‘This funding is designed to be spent on advertising to encourage more people from outside the area to visit and stay for a few days to enjoy the region and the festival,’ explains Remy.

Tourism Australia has more than 150 food-and-wine festivals listed on their database and tell me they suspect there are many more. These range from the small to the huge – such as the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, which features more than 200 events, WA’s Taste Great Southern that runs over 18 days, and a nine-day Harvest Week in Victoria’s Daylesford and Macedon area. My personal favourite of those I browsed is Innisfail’s Feast of the Senses, dedicated to tropical and exotic fruits and last year achieved a successful Guinness World Record for the longest banana split!

It seems that, increasingly, people are travelling on their stomachs.

A summary of Sample 2017

Main Day: Saturday 2 September, 8am–4pm, Bangalow Showgrounds. Entry cost: $5 (children free)

$5 and $10 tasting plates on offer from 23 local eateries, including Scratch Patisserie, Harvest Café, Puremelt Chocolate, Luscious Foods, Town Restaurant, Macadamia Castle and Ilias The Greek. All plates compete for the Golden Fork awards, judged by Paul West, Ben Williamson, Samantha Gowing and Matt Golinski.

More than 150 stalls – local food producers and other lovely ‘lifestyle’ stalls.

Cooking demonstrations each hour 9am–2pm, including the My Mayor Rules cookoff (Byron v Lismore and Kyogle v Richmond Valley).

Celebrity Cooking stage mystery box challenges 9 / 9.45 / 10.30am, including Samantha Gowing, Matt Golinski and Clayton Donovan.

Music onstage 12–3pm. Animal Shows at 9.30 and 11am.

Other events:
Ahead of the Curve – Kerry O’Brien MCs a panel of successful local businesspeople – Wed 30 August 5pm, Bangalow Hotel ($20)

Fab Ladies Wine Soiree – Five course dinner by Gavin Hughes with accompanying wines – Thurs 31 August 6.30pm, Byron at Byron ($130) *SOLD OUT*

Salt of the Earth Lunch – the traditional ‘Sample Lunch’ – Friday 1 Sept 12 noon, Byron Bay Golf Club ($130)

Signature Flavours Dinner – four chefs present their signature dish – Fri 1 Sept 6.30pm, Byron at Byron ($150)

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