2021: time to get vocal about local?

Colin McLean

One of the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic has been a major shift towards local sourcing, and a new awards programme aims to help local retailers in Scotland harness the power of local, regional and national products.

by Antony Begley

There were many seismic shifts in the local retailing sector during the last seven or eight months as the entire supply chain attempted to cope with change on an unprecedented scale and pace as coronavirus turned the world on its head. One of those seismic shifts has been a re-evaluation of the benefits of local sourcing by many retailers and wholesalers.

When the big global brand supply chain works, it unquestionably works well. But when it doesn’t work, it creates chaos. The mass-scale availability issues we saw earlier this year were astonishing. When even supermarkets are half empty you know there’s a major problem.

On the whole, local retailers seemed to manage their availability issues a lot better, taking advantage of their ability to be nimble, creative and committed to doing whatever it took to keep essentials on the shelves. But under Covid-19, the supply chain genie was released from the bottle – and it will take a long time to force it back in.

Under a pandemic like this, another consequence is that retailers find out who their friends really are. There’s no question that the supermarkets got preferential treatment when stocks got really low. Many big brands had no choice but to prioritise and, in many high profile instances, the local retailing and wholesaling sector got a second prize at best.

Unsurprisingly, retailers and wholesalers had to do what they had to just to keep stock on the shelves and, for many, that meant leaning much more heavily on smaller, more local producers.

And you know what? The experience was enlightening for many. Dan Brown, Manager of Pinkie Farm Convenience Store in Edinburgh and standing SGF President comments: “We’ve always tried to use local producers because our customers like local products and because we believe in supporting the local economy. Our experience of working more intensely with local suppliers under coronavirus has actually yielded lots of unexpected benefits. They tend to be very responsive, very proactive and very willing to work with us in ways that big producers can’t. We’ve had local suppliers happy to create bespoke products just for the store, for instance.

“And another thing that I never really appreciated before is that when you work closely with smaller local businesses, you realise you’re gaining access to vast amounts of experience and expertise. These are companies that live and breathe their products, so they know them inside out. They’ve been able to offer absolutely exceptional support and advice. We’ll definitely be using more local suppliers in the longer term. It just works.”

There’s also strong evidence to suggest that, after the traumatic experiences of the pandemic, shoppers are more interested in ever than ethical buying and that often translates into a desire to support independent businesses and to support local economies that have been proven to be so fragile this year.

Scottish Retail Food & Drink Awards

The signs, then, are that local sourcing’s day could finally have arrived. Local sourcing has been important to many retailers and wholesalers for years, but it has never quite hit the top of the bill. The new Scottish Retail Food & Drink Awards aims to help push Scottish products much further up the retail and wholesale agenda and help get more of Scotland’s outstanding food and drink products onto more Scottish retail shelves.

Initially launched at the start of this year, the new awards fell victim to coronavirus like so many other projects, but they have now been fully relaunched with greater momentum than ever, thanks to the news that Spar Scotland will a key sponsor. Scotland’s leading convenience retailer is sponsoring the mission-critical Small Producer of the Year category.

A family-owned company, Spar Scotland services over 300 Spar stores across the country and already works with over 150 local suppliers Scotland-wide in a broad spectrum of product categories.

The sponsorship demonstrates the wholesaler and retailer’s commitment to helping nurture and develop Scotland’s legion of small producers.

Colin McLean, CEO of Spar Scotland, commented: “As a family-owned business with more than 100 years of history in serving hundreds of communities across Scotland, we understand just how important it is to support the country’s many fantastic small local producers. That’s why we are absolutely thrilled to sponsor the Small Producer of the Year category at the first ever Scottish Retail Food & Drink Awards. We view this as a fantastic celebration of Scottish food and drink but with a clear commercial aim: to grow sales for both small producers and the retailers who stock their products.

“We have always actively supported small producers and have long helped get more Scottish products onto more Scottish retail shelves and we currently work with more than 150 local suppliers in Scotland. During the current coronavirus pandemic we have only seen shopper interest in local products grow and we are keen to play our part in helping add momentum to that trend.

“There are so many benefits to local sourcing that have, perhaps, become more apparent than ever under coronavirus. 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’. This is a great opportunity to help Scotland’s local suppliers grow and thrive.”

Scottish Retail Food & Drink Awards Director Helen Lyons added: “We have seen only too clearly how fragile many local communities are in Scotland over the last seven or eight months and how important local, regional and national sourcing has become in helping protect local economies.

“The Awards respond directly to increasing consumer demand for local products and will be to the benefit of everyone involved from producers and suppliers to wholesalers, retailers and, ultimately, to consumers themselves.”

The Scottish Retail Food & Drink Awards is supported by a panel of distinguished judges which will be led by internationally-renowned food expert Jane Milton and a large team of highly respected independent food and drink experts. Official ambassador for the awards will be Bruce Langlands, a highly esteemed figure and former Director of Foods at Harrods and Director of Food & Hospitality at Selfridges.

The Awards also benefit from the support of Scotland’s largest circulation newspapers with The Scottish Sun, The Times in Scotland and The Sunday Times in Scotland confirmed as official Consumer Media Partners.

STG July 2021