Stephen Jardine: Are we willing to buy Scottish?

Six weeks in, just what is the Year of Food and Drink 2015? To date it has given us a nice warm feeling with the promise of lots of good things to come. But this week the latest Scottish Government themed year got some real flesh on its bones. At a farming conference, food minister Richard Lochhead laid down the gauntlet to the supermarkets. His challenge, to ensure that by 2020 produce from Scotland dominates their shelves.

Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jon Savage
Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jon Savage
Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jon Savage

That is a big ask. At present, the situation varies greatly between retailers. All claim to be supporting Scottish produce but while some are true to that in every single aisle, for others the commitment doesn’t go much further than window dressing with oatcakes and porridge.

According to Mr Lochhead, that’s not good enough. He has pledged half a million pounds to help Scottish companies get their products into the major retailers. Above that, he is soon to meet supermarket leaders to ask them to improve their approach to local sourcing.

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“I want them to do some soul searching and think about whether there is more they should be doing to back the Scottish economy and secure food production in this country”, 
he said.

Now in the past, appealing to the better nature of the supermarkets hasn’t been spectacularly successful. Back in 2008 Alex Salmond summoned the first Supermarket Summit with multiple retailers to examine how they could better support farmers and food producers. And that was that.

However, seven years on supermarket retailing is a very different world. Where once the giants could ignore politicians as easily as they ignored farmers and customers, that is no longer an option.

If Mr Lochhead is making conditions easier for supermarkets to stock Scottish and urging them to make space on their shelves, the next step is up to us as consumers.

If the supply is in place, we need to provide the demand. That means positively choosing Scottish when we can but also making a fuss when we can’t. If Scottish lamb is in season but only New Zealand lamb is on the shelves, we need to be complaining loudly and often until that changes.

Later this month a Look for Local campaign will try to galvanise shoppers into making a choice that supports Scottish jobs and business.

“This needs all our voices,” said Mr Lochhead. “We should shout from the rooftops about our great produce and expect all parts of the supply chain to do the same,” he added.

To have Scottish produce dominating Scottish supermarket shelves in just five years is a very ambitious target to set. It will only be achieved if the price is right and producers ensure they can supply in a way that works with supermarkets.