AS hospitality businesses start to reopen this week the Scottish Wholesale Association (SWA) is focused on helping Scotland’s food and drink recovery by building local sourcing opportunities for wholesalers and local producers.

The trade association has embarked on an ambitious project designed to help members and the wider wholesale sector engage with more local producers and help them access new markets. Working with the SAOS and with support through the Scottish Government’s recovery plans to help rebuild the wholesale industry post-Covid, the SWA is developing a Local Food Logistics strategy that will enable producers to better understand the role of the wholesale sector in the wider supply chain.

Former wholesaler John Forteith, now an industry consultant, is project lead and chairman of the steering group set up to drive the project. Comprising high-profile individuals from national and regional wholesale businesses across Scotland, it is exploring how wholesalers are currently sourcing and connecting with local food producers, manufacturers and suppliers, identifying key barriers and establishing what is needed to increase local sourcing ability.

Mr Forteith said: “The group meets monthly and I’ve been struck by the enthusiasm and desire to help suppliers better understand the wholesale sector. This is a really important initiative designed to deliver tangible benefits for Scottish suppliers and wholesalers alike at a time when our industry needs all the help it can get to keep our wheels moving and diversify into new markets as we emerge from the pandemic.”

A survey conducted by the SWA earlier this year showed that its members’ current local/Scottish food offering is typically around 30%. Colin Smith, SWA chief executive, said: “SWA’s aspiration is to agree a target for increasing and benchmarking against this figure. Increasing this by a further 10%, for example, would be a significant boost to food and drink producers in Scotland.”

With phase one of the project looking at the barriers and developing the best way for the industry to educate and connect with producers now complete, phase two is currently in development. This is creating an industry-agreed standardised education and training programme that can be delivered either through SWA workshops or by individual members at a local level.

To help highlight both the benefits and learnings from using the wholesale distribution model, the SWA has enlisted the help of three different-sized and well-known companies – Summer Harvest Oils, Mackie’s of Scotland and AG Barr – to share their stories on how they “won in wholesale”.

With the project aligned to Scotland’s recovery action plans, the final phase will see local/regional trials supported by Scotland Food & Drink as well as the creation of a Scottish Wholesale Association centrally-managed director for producers and suppliers to use a means of connecting with wholesalers.

The SWA first shone a spotlight on the local sourcing opportunity at its annual conference two years ago when it staged an exhibition with Scotland Food & Drink to provide producers with access to wholesalers they had not previously engaged with.

Mr Smith added: “The SWA sits on the Food Tourism Strategy Group and was a member of the

Scottish Government’s Tourism Recovery Taskforce, set up during the first coronavirus lockdown last year. As part of this, one recommendation was to increase the consumption and promotion of Scotland’s food and drink – something that was already on our radar.

“Our Local Sourcing Logistics strategy will accelerate that and help us achieve our objective to distribute more local goods onto the shelves of Scotland’s 5,000 convenience stores and onto plates in the 30,000 hospitality, tourism and leisure outlets.

“It’s all about helping our sector become resilient to challenges and get us ready to capitalise on new opportunities, at the same time educating Scottish producers that wholesale is a £2.9 billion industry and a dynamic route to market.”

Wholesalers supporting the project include Braehead Foods in Ayrshire, Williamson’s Foodservice in the north of Scotland, Glasgow’s Lomond Wholesale, CJ Lang in Dundee, Total Produce, Brakes Scotland and JW Gray in Shetland.

John Forteith concluded: “We know that many food and drink companies – small and large, new and long-established – don’t really fully understand the wholesale sector and, crucially, how it could benefit their business. So, part of our work will include workshops hosted by SWA wholesalers at which producers and suppliers will hear directly from wholesalers about our route to market and the benefits, savings and opportunities it provides.”

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