You are currently viewing The surprising benefits of working with small local producers

Working with smaller local producers has many obvious benefits for convenience retailers, but there are many less obvious benefits too says Musselburgh Nisa retailer and SGF President Dan Brown.

One of the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic has been a major shift towards local sourcing in the convenience retailing sector 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 the seismic shifts has been a re-evaluation of the benefits of local sourcing by many local retailers and wholesalers.

Historically, the convenience sector has been heavily reliant on wholesalers who are, in turn, heavily reliant on the major FMCG brands, many of them global players. And, to be fair, 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 last year were astonishing. When even supermarkets are half-empty you know there’s a major problem.

On the whole, local retailers managed 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 coronavirus, local retailers had to get more creative just to keep stock on the shelves for the communities they serve across Scotland. 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 multi-award-winning Pinkie Farm Convenience Store in Edinburgh and standing Scottish Grocers’ Federation (SGF) President has certainly found that working with local producers has been a hugely rewarding experience, and in lots of ways that he hadn’t expected.

“We’ve always tried to use local producers because our customers like local products and because we believe in supporting the local economy,” he explains. “But 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.”

One of the most successful examples of how this has worked in practice has been a willingness from local producers to really work hand-in-hand with Dan to understand his customer base at a level that is just not possible for bigger suppliers.

“We’ve had local suppliers happy to create bespoke products just for the store, for instance,” says Dan. “That’s a massively important thing for us because it gives us genuine points of difference against our competitors. These days, the convenience sector is very focused on becoming ‘destination stores’, stores that offer differentiated ranges and give customers more reasons to visit your store rather than someone else’s. Having unique, bespoke products specifically created for the store is a fantastic way to achieve that.”

Another huge benefit to working with local producers is  being able to tap into the sheer depth and width of knowledge that is available.

Dan explains:  “What 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.”

That support has allowed Dan to create a tailored, differentiated range that precisely meets the demands of his customer bases and helps set his store even further apart from the competition.

“We’ll definitely be using more local suppliers in the longer term, concludes Dan. “It just works.”