Graeme Ford, Chair of East Lothian Food & Drink, tells us how producers are adapting during the pandemic and encourages us to support our local businesses.
As part of our ongoing focus on how local businesses are having to adapt to survive and even thrive during the current pandemic, here we talk to Graeme Ford. He is a Director at the Premium Bakery in Prestonpans and is also Chair of the East Lothian Food & Drink group. Graeme tells us about how the businesses in the group have had to adapt and emphasises the importance of shopping locally – supporting our fantastic and varied East Lothian food producers.
Q: Tell us what your group is called and what its aims are?
A: We are East Lothian Food and Drink. We are a business improvement district, and we have a membership of over 40 food and drink producers in East Lothian. Our main aim is to promote and support East Lothian food and drink companies both short and long term and to grow the stature of East Lothian as Scotland’s Food and drink county.
Q: How long has the group been running, who are the members and how can others join?
A: We have been running for four years and are a collection of food business, from large to small. Voluntary members can join at any time and we provide access to several services that can help business and networking opportunities.
Q: What affect did the Coronavirus pandemic have on your group and the businesses it represents?
A: Like all industries, our members were affected and faced a challenging 2020. Unfortunately, the Highland Show, several local markets, and the Edinburgh Christmas Market to name a few were all cancelled. This affected several of our members who rely on these markets for sales and marketing opportunities. For others, their own business model had to change to adapt and reach their customer base.
Q: What did you do to adapt to these challenges?
As we have such varied membership, all were affected in different ways. However, being food-based, the majority were able to adapt their offering such as moving to online ordering and deliveries to be able to deal directly with the public. A lot of our members who have shop premises saw increased sales as more people shopped local. Similarly, wholesalers were able to increase volumes going into the local shops and supermarkets.
Q: What does the immediate future look like for your group? Will some of the changes be permanent? Are you thinking of further ways to adapt?
A: The immediate future looks very similar to 2020 as we’re unfortunately in this midst of this pandemic a while longer. Many of the changes that have been made will continue to benefit our members. Again, the move to online shopping will be key for certain suppliers and many will be able to rely on strong sales through wholesaling. A lot depends on shopping habits from the public and we would hope they will continue to shop local and enjoy the unique and varied offering the wonderful food and drink products East Lothian can provide.
Q: Have you had any support from East Lothian Council that you’d like to highlight?
A: East Lothian Council have been excellent with support through various focus groups set up. This has allowed us to raise issues to help with business support. In particular the economic development team have been very helpful.
For more information on Scotland’s Food & Drink County and the fantastic local producers in the group, visit www.scotlandsfooddrinkcounty.com or find them on social media: