Getting local on the menu

Consumers love local and regional products but getting them on the menu can be challenging. Could regional supplier hubs provide a much-needed route to market? Amy Fetzer reports.

Consumers tend to love local and regional food products. One YouGov poll found that 4 in 5 adults think it is important that Brits buy local products, whilst Nielsen research found six in ten said country of origin was one of the most important factors in brand choice.

Local and regional labels are often seen as an ethical, sustainable choice associated with lower food miles, greater freshness, less packaging and supporting local business and communities. However, whether a local or regional product actually translates as the most sustainable option does need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

For operators, especially large chains, it can be a challenge to get local and regional products on the menu. Smaller local/regional suppliers might be one of many knocking on the retailer’s door. This can make success elusive as many struggle to find an ‘in’ with larger operators who do not have the time, resources and systems to cope with building relationships with multiple SMEs for each region they operate in.

The Food and Drink Hub for Scotland has been plugging this gap by offering a local and regional solutions to partners such as Morrison’s, Co-op and Sainsbury’s and Brakes. It is now poised to enter the foodservice arena with a direct contract with a national operator in the offing.

The Food and Drink Hub for Scotland makes over 350 Scottish products, ranging from fresh foods to craft beers and speciality snacks, from over 80 local and regional suppliers available one basket. This means buyers do not have to deal with multiple small suppliers. This consolidated basket of goods gives listed local and regional products a far better chance of being stocked than approaching outlets individually.

For the retailers and operators, being able to buy goods from SMEs as part of a consolidated offering makes it much easier for the retailers or foodservice operator to keep stock levels high. This is because deliveries can be lower volume and more regular – typically twice a week – than when ordering one product direct from one supplier, which typically involve large minimum order volumes made on demand. This can lead to issues with finding space to store large volumes of stocks on one hand, and periods of unavailability on the other when waiting for deliveries direct from a single supplier. Bringing deliveries together also has the potential to reduce delivery miles.

The company also takes a partnership, proactive approach to help clients source local products to meet their market. “Our model is different to other suppliers,” explains Steve Wallace, Head of Commercial, Food and Drink Hub for Scotland. “If a client is looking for a particular type of product, such as a craft beer, to suit a consumer demographic need, we are the conduit to finding it. If we don’t already have the right product on our list, we’ll source it to fill that gap. And that can take a bit of time. And time is a resource that retailers do not have in their gift anymore because of employee cut backs.”

Yet investing in local and regional products can aid sales, especially during events such as British Food Fortnight. Indeed, according to Nick Phipps, Marketing Manager, Bidfood, sales of products with at least 65% British ingredients saw an increase across the range year on year during the 2018 event.

Beer is a great example of a product that can benefit from being sourced locally. “People want to drink their local beer,” notes Wallace, “especially across Scotland. Consumers really respond to it and you see the extra sales. People will spend more time on what they are eating and drinking if it is special, different and local.” Even focussing just on British produce can provide a boost,

Whilst the Food and Drink Hub currently only operates in Scotland, the business is already looking at potentially expanding to work with some of its current clients to source local and regional products in areas such as Yorkshire and the North of England. The business provides a promising model that could be copied in other regions to help provide a vital route to market for local and regional suppliers.

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