IT only opened in April, but a new grocery store in Edinburgh is already bustling with customers shopping for veg grown in East Lothian, fresh meat from the Borders and Perthshire and fish and cheese from the Highlands and Islands.
Earthy, in Canonmills, is one of many businesses benefiting from a new consumer appetite for locally and ethically sourced products – fuelled in part by the success of farmers’ markets and the popularity of TV cooking programmes.
Demand has never been greater – leading retailers and restaurateurs are keen to build closer relationships with suppliers, which is also good news for Scottish farms and food producers.
Earthy, established four years ago, now has three stores in Canonmills, the Grange and Portobello.
One of the three directors is Trica Stephen, who has been growing organic vegetables at Phantassie, in East Lothian, for more than ten years.
Her business began with a box selling scheme – and she is a great believer in organic foods – but even she has been surprised by how quickly Earthy has grown.
“It is great that people like it. The idea is that as Earthy grows the producers will grow too.”
The funky design, helpful staff and relaxed atmosphere of the shops are as important as the food itself to the founders – who wanted to make food shopping enjoyable again.
Ms Stephen says: “We have to eat… but we had got to the point in this country where food shopping has become an utterly soulless and demeaning experience.”
Chef Mark Greenaway, whose menu on the Great British Menu was entirely sourced from Scottish producers, says he believes the appetite for local sourced food is definitely on the rise.
“I think customers are more aware and there are all these little producers putting themselves out there. Because of the tough economic climate the produce has to be as good as it can be.
“The range and quality of locally produced goods is so much higher than it was five years ago. It is good news for chefs, for retailers and for customers.”
Customer demand is not the only reason for a shift towards local sourcing. Franco Margiotta, whose family has seven grocery stores in Edinburgh, says it was a concern for animal welfare which led him to Whitmuir the Organic Place in the Scottish Borders.
“I was well aware of the popularity of the Saturday Farmers Market in Edinburgh and I liked the whole idea of humanely-produced meat and eggs.
“My daughter was at university studying sustainable farming and she was in touch with Pete and Heather at Whitmuir.
“I love what they are doing. When I went out there I saw they treated their animals like we used to do back when I was a kid in Italy.”
As well as selling sausages, burgers and meat from Whitmuir, Margiotta also offers an ordering service for customers to ask for specific cuts of meat.
“The customers are responding to the idea and the orders are getting bigger and bigger,” he says.
Heather Anderson of Whitmuir says: “Franco has been fantastic. I have taken him up to see the cattle and the pigs.”
She and her husband, Pete Ritchie, have been farming for 15 years after originally working as campaigners on behalf of people with disabilities. The idea of community has always been a key part of her business plan.
“When we started it was because we felt that food shouldn’t be treated as a commodity, it should be about a relationship.
“Certainly we have a very wide range of people who come here. We have eighty-year-old customers who come because they know they can buy spale bone – which is a traditional cut of meat used for spale bone soup.”
Whitmuir have a butcher and a baker on the premises and produce Breadshare loaves – the first bread to be made with home-grown Scottish wheat since the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1848.
Encouraging consumers to seek out Scottish products is something both the Scottish Government and the National Farmers Union are keen to encourage.
The chief executive of the government-supported agency Scotland Food and Drink, James Withers, says: “People associate Scottish produce with quality more than ever before. The link between quality and provenance is therefore easy for people to make and ensures that Scottish produce is ending up in more and more restaurants and shopping baskets.”
Wendy Fleming, food chain relationships manager for NFU Scotland, said: “There are many good things about selling farm goods through local shops.
“For farmers, it is very satisfying to meet up with their buyers, in the form of local shops, and even the shoppers themselves, face to face and to see what they’ve produced sitting on the shelf waiting to be bought.
“For shopkeepers, stocking local food and drink with well-known provenance is a great selling-point, and customers are often keen to buy ingredients and meals from farms or areas they know. ”
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