Festivals and Facebook spark a food revolution

Published: 3 January 2018 at 11:00

Market stall selling bread

Research finds small producers are linking social media with food festivals to thrive

A strong social media identity and local food festivals are becoming increasingly vital to small businesses who are being priced out of town centres, according to research by Anglia Ruskin University.

The study, published in the journal Tourism Geographies, found that local producers are increasingly confined to the edges of towns and cities due to the high rents found in urban centres, and the lack of footfall forces them to get their name known via other means.

The research, led by Dr Michael Duignan and Dr Sally Everett of Anglia Ruskin’s Faculty of Business and Law, focused on Cambridge, a city which is hugely popular with tourists and where premium city centre space is occupied by large chains, leaving independent companies to occupy peripheral locations – off the beaten track, and hidden in the suburbs.

Over a two-year period, researchers surveyed small producers on the importance of the Cambridge Food Festival (EAT Cambridge), an annual event which brings together independent food and drink suppliers and which was founded in 2013, and how these businesses linked their social media presence with the festivals themselves.

The survey found that 93% of exhibitors agreed that the festival provided a platform to market their business, and 86% agreed that it provided a much-needed collaborative marketing opportunity. Respondents also noted a rise in social media followers thanks to the interaction under the umbrella social media presence of EAT Cambridge.

Dr Michael Duignan, Senior Lecturer in Tourism at Anglia Ruskin, said:

“Food festivals, which bring together small, local producers, are becoming increasingly popular with a public that is discerning in its tastes and becoming bored with ‘clone towns’.

“Small businesses are continuously utilising physical festival spaces, fringe events, social media and digital identity to get their name known among people that otherwise would never have come across them before. They can piggy-back on the wider festival social media presence and use it as a platform for interaction and debate, increasing their online reach, and help consumers track their location across the city using GPS location and Twitter updates.

“The result in Cambridge has seen a push toward a foodie revolution – consumers continue to use temporary events and digital footprints in order to seek out these niche producers as an alternative to the city centre chains that are considered bland and unexciting. 

“Festivals furthermore provide a powerful collaborative vehicle for these small producers, who are working together to pull customers away from the city centre and creating new destinations of their own – for example in Cambridge, Bene’t Street is colloquially referred to as Meat Street due to the number of small producers present in that area. 

“Local, smaller producers are truly becoming increasing entrepreneurial in accessing the visitor and tourist economy – which is vital for thriving and surviving in the era of the ‘clone town’.”