Thanks to the bizarre year we’ve all lived through, reliance on local suppliers has never been more critical – and 2021 could be a massively important year for working with small local producers, says SPAR Scotland CEO Colin Mclean.
One of the many major shifts to take place during the turmoil of 2020 was an increased reliance among retailers and wholesalers on local suppliers – and one man who understood this shift perhaps better than most is CJ Lang & Son CEO Colin McLean. The Spar Scotland retailer and wholesaler works with over 150 local suppliers and that number has grown over the last year as elements of the global and UK-wide supply chain crumbled under the weight of coronavirus-inspired panic buying, as well as several other important factors that meant many wholesalers – and thus retailers – couldn’t get their hands on a whole array of products from big name brands.
Those availability issues forced wholesalers like Spar Scotland to look closer to home for reliable supply of key products and categories. As well as ensuring availability, however, Spar Scotland and most other wholesalers and retailers learned that there are many other benefits to working more closely with smaller local suppliers, as McLean explains.
What impact did 2020 have on your relationship with smaller local suppliers?
We have always been keen to support good local producers, but there’s no question that 2020 and the pandemic forced us to rely on Scottish suppliers more than ever. We work with over 150 local suppliers and the relationships with existing suppliers were taken to a new level in 2020. We also developed strong relationships with new suppliers and that’s benefitted everyone: the local suppliers themselves, Spar Scotland, Spar retailers and, of course, Spar customers. We also made a number of key appointments including Head of Food-To-Go Stephen Brown and Trading Director Richard Collins, whose vast experience in local sourcing has clearly helped us embrace the opportunity.
Was part of this shift in 2021 sheer necessity?
Absolutely. We had to move to using more local suppliers because it was the only way that we could guarantee the availability we needed. Scotland remains a very brand-focused nation of shoppers, which is great for CJ Lang as a business, but this migration towards stocking more local products gives our retailers and customers the best of both worlds: great brands and great local products.
And you’ve recently supported the Scottish Retail Food & Drink Awards?
Yes, we decided to sponsor the Small Producers Category at the inaugural Scottish Retail Food & Drink Awards because it’s a great fit with our own business model and ambitions. The Awards are all about getting more great quality Scottish food and drink products onto more Scottish shelves and Spar Scotland has long championed Scottish suppliers, so it meshes nicely. We’re delighted to help small producers make the next step by securing listings in retail outlets in Scotland and we have long experience of how beneficial these can be. We have seen many small producers flourish in the time we have been working with them and I think 2021 could be an important year for smaller producers in Scotland.
Do you see the growing interest in local products continuing in 2021?
Very much so. It could be a landmark year for producers who seize the opportunity that is there for them. The growth of the local retailing sector over the last year has helped raise the profile of our channel and I think a lot of small suppliers are now viewing convenience as an important potential route to market for them. 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. It also benefits Spar retailers by helping them offer a differentiated range to shoppers and drive footfall, sales and profits.
Do you see food-to-go remaining key in 2021?
We do. We have already rolled out our CJ’s food-to-go brand to 40 company-owned stores and we expect to have the brand in every company-owned store by the end of the year. Food-to-go is now a core element of convenience for us and, again, we work closely with a number of local suppliers for the CJ’s range including local bakers Asher’s, Browning’s the Bakers, JG Ross, McGhee’s and Stuart’s.