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Online orders help Scottish firms cope with impact of pandemic

By Kirsty Brown

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VisitScotland is optimistic e-commerce can help get the Scottish food and drink sector through the toughest year ever, as businesses across the country report an increase in demand.

The national tourism organisation’s Only In Scotland campaign has been encouraging Scots to rediscover the unique experiences on offer here, following the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Visitors spend around £995 million annually on eating and drinking and it accounts for the largest share of visitor spend after accommodation and travel costs.

Research by Scotland Food and Drink suggests 70 percent of Scottish consumers believe it’s important to have locally-sourced produce available, and 49 percent of Scottish shoppers also claim they would be willing to pay more for Scottish produce.

Food and Drink fortnight is underway, celebrating Scottish food and drink heroes who supplied groceries during lockdown as well as providing recipe ideas online, virtual cooking classes and tasting sessions while people were at home.

Whisky Hammer is a family-run whisky auction service based in Ellon, and was established in 2015 by brothers Daniel and Craig Milne.

Co-founder and managing director Daniel said:"Like most local businesses back in March, we were naturally apprehensive about how our operation would be impacted under the cloud of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Our business is almost entirely based online, which has provided to be a significant advantage.

"This, alongside our ability to implement the required safety measures in our office for our small team to be able to continue to operate safely, and work from home if required, has allowed the operation to continue to run throughout lockdown.

“We are lucky to have already established a loyal membership, with plans to move into our purpose-built facility later in the year.

"As the Covid situation began to unfold, we witnessed a natural shift of people's attention to be more focused on online sales, we have been greatly encouraged by the continued growth of our auction size, which has continued to grow during lockdown - an amazing achievement for us.

“The resolute confidence that the market has in Whisky Hammer will also allow us to develop our new business, Still Spirit.

"We will be launching both a physical shop in our new premises in Udny as well as an online shop, which includes a traditional retail shop for whisky and other fine spirits such as gin and rum.

"The bit we are most excited about is our carefully designed tasting room and exclusive rare whisky bar which will be hosting regular ticketed tasting events.

"We are ready to launch this in the coming weeks, which we hope will be seen as a positive statement, as lockdown measures are eased, towards revitalising and re-awakening business in Aberdeenshire.”

Daniel Milne.
Daniel Milne.

VisitScotland Regional Director Jo Robinson said: “Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire has world-class local produce and brands that not only sell all over the world, but enhance our tourism product to visitors here at home.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devasting impact on the tourism and events industry, however our sector has shown great resilience to rise to the most challenging year we have ever had, and to adapt and innovate to new ways of reaching customers.

“Online sales and deliveries can provide opportunities in new markets, as well as added convenience for existing clients.

"Being able to buy products and goods all year round even when visitors are not on holiday is a great way to generate more income.”

Market Development and Business Engagement Director at Scotland Food and Drink Lucy Husband said: “The impact of Covid-19 has changed the way we shop and forced many food and drink businesses to significantly adapt their approach.

“While more and more of us are shopping for food and drink online, the appetite for high-quality, local products remains strong. In fact, our research shows that 70 percent of Scottish consumers believe it’s important to have locally sourced produce available, and 49% of Scottish shoppers also claim they would be willing to pay more for Scottish produce.

“We proudly launched our SupportLocal.scot directory during lockdown to meet that demand and provide a useful platform for businesses to reach new consumers. In this incredibly difficult time for so many people, food and drink producers have shown resilience in their ability to innovate and adapt. Scotland boasts some of the best food and drink products in the world, and we should all endeavour to support local producers and enjoy the fruits of Scotland’s larder.”

Many micro businesses have been experimenting with online orders and home delivery for the first time. Isle20 was set up by Rhoda Meek on Tiree, Argyll and Bute as an online marketplace for the Scottish islands.

Founder of the isle20 and isleEats websites Rhoda Meek said: “After launching the isle20 marketplace, I discovered that the most popular products were definitely in the food sector.

"Despite making up only about 10 percent of our product listings, food and drink sales generate about a third of our revenue.

"The success of food sales led me to set up isleEats.com.

"I'm trying it out in Tiree - and hoping to expand it for next season. The goal is to help businesses sell more by creating a central place for visitors to find food and buy local. The local Flour Folks bakery has been doing a roaring trade with deliveries!”

Tiree Chocolates is listed on the site and operator Jo Vale said: "As a boutique business isle20 has been invaluable in helping me to expand my market this year. I'd previously mainly sold to visitors coming to Tiree but I now have customers across the UK who are keen to try island products."

Whiskey Hammer.
Whiskey Hammer.

Late last year in Edinburgh Tim Roads launched marketplace website Schop, offering locally sourced food and drink from independent retailers.

He said: “So far the business we have generated this year has surpassed our expectations.

"We are on course to double our initial target of orders for the year.

"During lockdown a lot of people tried us because many shops were running low on stock and our community of small suppliers had the contacts to source ingredients and sustain production.

"People based abroad were finding us online and then telling relatives in the UK.

"As people had turned to us in need, we kept prices the same rather than try and capitalise on the situation and we were able to turn this into more profitably.

“Although things levelled out a bit since restrictions lifted, many customers are returning to us because of the quality of fresh, seasonal produce.

"We tend to stock items that are having a good season to maximise the taste and customers value this level of insight and it gives them that important connection to the land.

"This has been a particularly good year for Scottish strawberries and blueberries.

"Schop’s delivery service is carbon-neutral and we use as little packaging as possible and where packaging is required, we endeavour to use either reusable, compostable or recyclable.

"So residents and visitors can leave no trace when they enjoying our food on the go.

"Because of our success we are able to rent a unit soon and are planning to work with an Edinburgh chef to offer meals in our deliveries.

"There’s a great community of small businesses working together.”

Overtone is a brewery in Glasgow, founded in 2018, and their head of sales James Kidd said: “The last six months have been very busy, our sales are up on last year.

"We have had to constantly change how we package our beer.

"The keg business instantly stopped when the pubs shut and the can and online market went a bit crazy overnight.

"We were able to adapt due to canning on site and have since had to return to kegging as can sales have dropped back again.

“Being granted our off sales licence helped massively giving us a much-needed income stream.

"We are lucky enough to package on site, so we were able to adapt the business with very few bottlenecks.”

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