K-Days experiment tests whether fairgoers have taste for local food and drink

K-Days took a turn toward local food and beer for this year's festival and, with two days left for the event, vendors and Northlands alike are waiting to tally the results of the venture.

With two more days left for the fair, vendors and Northlands are still tallying final sales numbers


K-Days took a turn toward local food and beer for this year's festival and, with two days left for the event, vendors and Northlands alike are waiting to tally the results of the venture.

The fair became the first in Canada to serve only locally crafted beer and spirits, with 26 different breweries serving their drinks. They range from relatively familiar names, like Alley Kat Brewing, to more off-the-beaten track operations like Bent Stick Brewing, which is run by three friends in Edmonton.

Some clients have still been looking for more familiar brands.

"I've had a lot of people asking for their go-to (beer) but 95 per cent of them have purchased something, not just walked away. They're open to maybe discovering their next go-to," said Shelly Hall, the craft beer specialist for Liquor on McLeod, a Spruce Grove-based store that set up a booth at K-Days.

Scott Kendall, a co-founder of Bent Stick Brewing, said his company had to commit 800 litres of beer — as much as the trio typically makes for an entire batch — to be part of K-Days. He's still waiting to see if it will have paid off with a profit.

"Even if it isn't the biggest sales numbers for us, the main thing is the exposure for people who may not have had the chance to try our beers," he said.

Small brewers are waiting for the final tally of their sales at K-Days.

The final tally on the number of beer "pours" will be released on Monday, said Lisa Holmes, vice-president of corporate development for Northlands. The organization initially estimated between 120,000 and 150,000 craft beer servings would be doled out during the fair.

Holmes said one of the biggest challenges associated with switching from a major brewer to local outfits was the supply.

"We were concerned there wouldn't be enough of the different types of beer. What we're seeing is there have been different types that have sold out, and the brewers have been quick to replace them with something else," she said.

Other local vendors say they've had a tougher time at this year's K-Days.

The "Eat at the Grand" hall in the Expo Centre featured almost a dozen local food vendors. Several owners said sales haven't measured up to expectations.

"I don't think anyone in that (hall) has been overly happy with the amount of traffic that's been going through, or the revenues they're turning out," said Jimmy Shewchuk, a co-owner of Sandwich & Sons, Prairie Catering, and Northern Chicken, which all have stands at the hall.

"That being said, it is a first time event for K-Days. It's a bit of an experiment with the local food and the questions that need to get asked at the end of it is, 'Is local food part of what Edmonton wants to do at K-Days?'" he said.

Other vendors said better signage and promotion is needed for local producers to compete with midway standards, such as corn dogs and pizza. They said that's especially important for smaller businesses, that risk a lot coming into a major fair like K-Days.

"I think it is a shortfall where they could be doing a bit more to promote it and get people into that room," said Peter Keith, co-owner of Meuwly's, an Edmonton-based artisan deli market.

"I've yet to see anything from Northlands to indicate this would even exist." 

Holmes said with Northlands no longer operating the Expo Centre, the organization is more limited in the promotion it can do in the building.

The introduction of more local vendors and producers is part of a long-term push to make K-Days "Alberta's fair," she said.

"It's all part of a big push to start to embrace our sense of place and the pride we have in being Albertan."


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