The undeniable magic of food festivals

The undeniable magic of food festivals

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Food brings people together. Whether you’re sharing the ups and downs of your day with your family over the dinner table, or building new relationships over a shared meal – food unlocks a sense of connection, belonging, and security. 

And while watching food shows on TV can give you a tiny taste of that feel-good experience, more and more people want a real slice of the action. 

Enter: food festivals 

In prehistoric times, when food was scarce, evidence suggests that communities would come together to celebrate food in abundance and prepare for harsh winters. 

Throughout history, the techniques we’ve used to catch, find, prepare and store food has shaped human development. It’s driven the emergence of culture and community, and ways of living across the world. Food is inextricably linked with history.

And today, we celebrate the links between what we eat and who we are in new ways.

Food festivals bring self-proclaimed foodies together to connect over a shared love of F&B –  from celebrating single ingredients and specific dishes, to honouring moments of cultural significance. 

F&B businesses use food festivals as an opportunity to reach new demographics and expand their customer base. 

And in the wake of global restrictions on travel, food festivals are also an opportunity for people to challenge their palates – trying new foods and embracing food traditions from cultures different to their own. 

There are small, intimate gatherings in local villages. There are world-renowned multi-day ticketed festivals on a large scale. The food festival trend is hot – and it shows no signs of cooling down.   

Is there a food festival for everyone? 

We’re willing to bet that there is a food festival to suit every taste. 

Because the focal points of food festivals are endless. From chicken wings to cheese, and oranges to omelettes, food festivals are as diverse as the diets they serve – and some modern events take the trend far beyond food stalls and fresh flavour combinations. 

Let’s be honest, they’re pretty niche – but these unique food festivals illustrate the endless possibilities out there for curious foodies: 

  • Roadkill Cook Off – in Marlington, USA. Every year, everyone in Marlington (population: 1,000 people) gets together to cook and eat roadkill. The tradition grew from a collective desire to minimise food waste and get creative with cooking. Today, food at the festival doesn’t have to be roadkill, but it does have to be meat from animals that are typically killed on roads.

  • Cheese Rolling Festival -- in Gloucestershire, UK. Since the 1800s, people have been gathering on Cooper’s Hill to take part in the annual cheese rolling competition. A four kilo wheel of Double Gloucester cheese is rolled down a steep hill chased by a crowd of competitors, all keen to win the coveted prize: the wheel of cheese they’ve tumbled after. 

  • La Tomatina – in Buñol, Spain. Otherwise known as the world’s biggest food fight, La Tomatina has been going for 77 years and attracts thousands of people to take part from across the world. The tomato throwing only starts once someone has climbed to the top of a two-story high, greased, wooden pole and captured some ham (obviously). For one hour, revellers take to the streets to throw over-ripe, low quality tomatoes at each other for fun. And when the hour is over, the (very long) clean up starts. 

  • Noche de Rábanos – in Oaxaca, Mexico. Translation: Night of the Radishes. An Oaxacan tradition since 1897, festive market vendors aimed to make their vegetables more appealing by making sculptures with them – and their legacy continues every year. 

A boost for local economies – and a new focus on sustainability

Along with food sales and festival tickets, these events drive earnings for other industries – providing a boost to local economies.

A 2023 study in Bahrain found that food festivals create tourist awareness of the region, improve the destination’s image, and highlight the culture of the region. Researchers divided motivation for attending food festivals into five key dimensions: 

  • Local food
  • Art
  • Entertainment
  • Socialisation
  • Escape and novelty 

And understanding these motivations is crucial to develop a festival’s culinary image and blend it with effective branding of the destination – in order to attract enthusiastic festival-goers. 

Over the next year, we expect to see sustainability as a key trend at food festivals around the world. From environmentally-focused festival content, to locations and travel solutions that minimise the carbon footprint of the events themselves – more festivals will focus on their impact

And if you’re looking for festival vibes at an industry-changing F&B event, join us in Riyadh for InFlavour 2024. 

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