Thanks to the bizarre year we’ve all lived through, reliance on small local producers has never been more critical – and 2021 could be a massively important year for them, says Spar Scotland CEO Colin McLean.
One of the many major shifts to take place during 2020 was an increased reliance among retailers and wholesalers on local suppliers – and one man who understood this 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.
Availability issues forced wholesalers like Spar Scotland to look closer to home for reliable supplies. As well as ensuring availability, however, Spar Scotland learned that there are many other benefits to working more closely with seller local suppliers.
What impact did 2020 have on your relationship with smaller local suppliers?
We have always been keen to support good local producers, both big and small 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 while we also developed strong relationships with new suppliers.
Was part of this shift down to sheer necessity?
Absolutely. We had to move to using more local suppliers because it was the only way we could guarantee the availability we needed. A great example is Graham’s The Family Dairy. We are a family-owned business too, so it just feels right to be working with other family-owned businesses in Scotland, if the commercials are right.
And you’ve recently announced your support for 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 be helping small producers make the next step by securing listings in retail outlets in Scotland and we have long experience of how beneficial those listings can be for producers.
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. I think more and more smaller suppliers are waking up to the scale of the opportunity that exists in targeting the convenience sector. 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.