2 minutes of your time: Colin McLean

Colin McLean

Spar Scotland CEO Colin McLean discusses the importance of local sourcing to his business and why the strategy is good for shoppers, Scottish producers and Spar Scotland.


Spar Scotland has been transformed in the last few years. Can you give us an overview?

Spar is the largest symbol group in Scotland servicing over 300 convenience stores. We are a family-owned business based in Dundee. We own over 100 Spar stores and have an outstanding on-site distribution centre and a fleet of 55 vehicles. We employ 1,700 people.

We continue to advertise on STV with market-leading deals highlighting the great value available in Spar stores. We extended our partnership with the Scottish FA until 2023 supporting the Scotland Women’s National Team and relaunched our grassroots tournament for girls. We’ve expanded our food-to-go offering by implementing our CJ’s brand in our company-owned stores and we have had record breaking food-to-go sales. We recently signed-off one of the biggest investment programmes in the company’s history with £6m due to spend on our estate over the next few years. That programme is already well underway.

We’ve also strengthened our relationship with our independent retailers through the recent launch of a new website, a new-look sales team and we continue to work hard to grow our independent base through recruitment but first and foremost through retention of our existing retailers.

We’ve also picked up a few notable awards along the way too, including the prestigious SLR Symbol Group of the Year award.

How important is Scottish food and drink to CJ Lang?

We understand just how important it is to support the country’s many fantastic small local producers and currently work with over 150 local suppliers across Scotland. During the pandemic we saw how shopper interest in local products grew and we are keen to play our part in building on that momentum.

Small producers are invaluable to local communities. The benefits of a strong network of local food and drink producers are far reaching. Their investment into a diverse range of products creates local jobs and make it possible for the food and drink industry to thrive. It also means shoppers have access to more options to choose from, all produced close to home.

Now is a good opportunity too to thank Scottish producers for going above and beyond during the last couple of years. We could not be more grateful for the support family firms and producers have shown us.

What are the benefits of local, regional and national sourcing?

There are so many benefits. Supporting small, local producers helps sustain local economies across Scotland, it helps safeguard jobs and it helps minimise our impact on the planet thanks to significantly reduced road miles. Small-scale production is better for the planet. By supporting local Scottish business, we are buying local produce that is very fresh. These products are grown by local people with a real passion for giving quality food and drink to consumers.

How do you see the local sourcing trend evolving?

We can only see the local sourcing trend growing stronger in the next year or two. The customer of today and tomorrow is clearly very in tune with supporting local producers and suppliers. We will continue to play our part in ensuring we embrace and support local sourcing both now and in the future years to come.

What are you looking for when listing new Scottish products?

When selecting the products, it comes down to three aspects:

  • First is always what customers want – demand generally drives supply unless you are sat on a load of sunflower oil right now!
  • Second is a point of difference – why should a customer pick your brand over another? Award-winning quality, a story that resonates, an exclusive product/blend, engaging marketing?
  • Finally, commercials – does it work for the customer, ourselves, independent retailers and the supplier.

We support and actively coach our suppliers that need it; we want to champion our suppliers and fly the flag for Scotland. So, we will work with them on capacity, scale, margin and retail expectations, with forecasts to ensure this works for all parties at the forefront. For some of our suppliers without their own trucks we will offer backhaul capabilities to offer discounted market-leading rates to remove any haulier concerns in the current market.

What are the key benefits to Scottish producers of working with Spar Scotland?

Being based in Scotland with a full distribution network and a full Scotland-based buying team means Spar Scotland is in a great place to work with more small local suppliers and help them get their products out to more shoppers.

For over 100 years we have been supplying food to the convenience sector. We are investing significantly in our stores and within that we are looking at our ranges which will bring out the best local food producers Scotland has to offer. This is a great opportunity to help Scotland’s local suppliers grow and thrive.