Leading salad, watercress and herb supplier Vitacress UK has denied claims that it pulled out of the Alresford Watercress Festival at the last minute, causing problems for the organisers.

A press release announced that this year’s event had been “a huge success despite major sponsor pulling out.”

Quizzed further about the decision, the press spokesperson added: “It only became clear that the money was not available the week before the festival which obviously caused additional stress and anxiety.  Fortunately, The Watercress Company covered the cost.”

Vitacress, though, was quick to deny the allegation, with a spokesperson telling South East Farmer that she had an email trail showing that the decision not to fund the event had been communicated to festival organisers as far back as January.

“We have been happy to support the festival over the past few years but decided before the pandemic that we would review that support on an annual basis in future,” she said.

The spokesperson said Vitacress had honoured a commitment made in 2019 to support the 2020 event, which was cancelled because of Covid-19, by sponsoring the 2022 event, having also provided video material for the ‘online’ event in 2021.

But she said that with many other charities and community organisations looking for support, including those nominated by its own employees, Vitacress had decided to spread its corporate giving more widely and had notified the festival organisers of that decision at the start of the year. She said she was disappointed at the headline on the press release.

The festival spokesperson said the annual event had been started by The Watercress Alliance in “around 2007” by The Watercress Company, Bakkavor and Vitacress Salads, which had been a sponsor ever since. Its continuing support this year had been “assumed”, she said.

The festival itself, meanwhile – the 19th to have been held – took place in glorious sunshine and was described as “a huge success with a best ever attendance of between 18,000 and 20,000 visitors”. 

After Beau Reilly-Taylor and Jack Sims were crowned as the 2023 Watercress King and Queen by Charlie Jeffreys, finalist in 2022’s MasterChef: The Professionals, the day continued with live cookery demonstrations, a charity auction of food that helped raise a total of nearly £4,000, live music, choirs, groups and children’s entertainers and activities.

The World Watercress Eating Championships attracted entrants from all over Hampshire and even as far as Birmingham, with 14-time champion Glenn Walsh eating his way through 80g of watercress in 31.29 seconds to hang on to the title and establish an official Guinness World Record. 

Claire May, event and market manager, said she had been delighted by the success of the event before adding: “Organisationally it was a tough year with a number of unexpected additional costs and challenges.”

In another reference to the funding dispute, she thanked the event sponsors, “especially the ones who made up the difference”.