Islanders urged to buy local to support local industry amid Covid uncertainty

28 April 2020

ISLANDERS are being urged to support Shetland’s food and drink industry by buying local as many businesses continue to face huge uncertainty as a result of Coronavirus restrictions.

Shetland Food and Drink Group manager Claire White said the Covid-19 crisis had forced virtually all producers and outlets to change how they operate in some way.

Many have had to scale back production, furlough staff or close their doors altogether this spring – though some producers and outlets are seeing higher demand as a result of consumers’ behavioural changes.

With the government’s lockdown now in its sixth week, SFAD members are understandably feeling anxious about what the short- and medium-term future could hold. 

White said the food and drink group would be doing everything it could to support members.

In the meantime she is encouraging islanders to bear in mind the vast array of local produce available when doing their grocery shopping. Many local shops are also offering a valuable delivery service during the lockdown.

“It’s a mixed picture for our members at this very challenging time,” she said. “Some of the producers are thankfully enjoying strong demand, while others have seen a big dip, and obviously some types of business had no option but to close.”

Sound Service Station’s delivery service has seen a huge spike in demand, with a fourfold increase in home deliveries since late March.

White said it was one of many small businesses across Shetland that are going the extra mile to serve communities, especially more vulnerable members of society, by offering personalised orders and sourcing items folk usually cannot find locally.

The forecourt’s co-owner Jordan Thomason said the business had to “adapt quickly” and, while demand for fuel has fallen “quite drastically” with folk covering far fewer miles in their vehicles, home delivery has “grown faster than we ever thought it would”.

“That in itself has presented its own challenges but we are extremely grateful to all our loyal customers that have continued to shop with us throughout all of this,” Thomason said.

“Our staff are working harder than ever to make sure that our shelves are constantly fully stocked and customers can get everything they need. The feedback we are getting is all very positive so we are glad that we are able to provide a service that people are happy with and that keeps them coming back.

“All of our local suppliers have been fantastic as well, the quality of their produce speaks for itself and is a massive part of why we have remained so busy.”

Among the 15 local suppliers whose goods it stocks, Sound Service Station is the main customer for Da Kitchen Bakery, based in Yell, keeping the bakery busy despite losing some of its usual turnover.

Bakeries in Sandwick, Voe and Waas are also continuing to supply most of their usual outlets, and have noticed dips and rises in demand for different produce.

The isles have certainly not been immune to the nationwide upsurge in folk baking from home. Shetland Farm Dairies is now offering catering-sized 3kg tubs of its surfeit of local butter.

Fiona Nicholson from the dairy cooperative said they initially saw a spike in the volume of milk being sold in rural shops, which has now levelled off. She is also urging folk to recognise the economic and environmental benefits of buying local.

As a result of many people choosing to do just that, Anderson Butchers has enjoyed a higher than expected turnover for this time of year. Scalloway Meat Company has also been busy with its local delivery service going very well.

Shetland Livestock Marketing Group has furloughed two staff and others are continuing to work on reduced hours.

L.S. Gifford in Bressay sold as many tatties in the first two weeks of the shutdown as it normally would in two months, while it has been “business as usual” for Uradale Farm.

Lerwick Brewery, meanwhile, has stopped making its beers for the moment. It has seen very limited sales through local shops and online, and now has enough stock to last until the end of 2020.

Debbie Strang of Shetland Distillery Company has furloughed all but one staff member, who has been kept on to make hand sanitiser to help deal with the pandemic. 

There is “great disappointment” as Shetland Reeel Gin had recently made a special edition gin to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Shetland Folk Festival, which had been due to take place this weekend.

The seafood sector is expected to emerge better from Covid-19 than some, with boats still catching and landing fish regularly.

Fish shop Blydoit has seen an increase in local sales that has partially compensated for the loss of higher volume contracts with, for example, schools.

Island Fish has also been very busy with home deliveries. Local cod producer Thule Ventus has seen an increase in online sales, but most other avenues have dried up in recent weeks.

Michael Laurenson of Blueshell Mussels said their farms continued to harvest to supply supermarkets and the company is working at around 60 per cent its normal capacity. But he is very concerned about the future as restaurants and bars look likely to be among the last businesses able to reopen.

That is also playing on the mind of The Dowry’s manager Stuart Fox. The Lerwick café closed just prior to the mandatory 23 March shutdown, its turnover having been down 80 per cent in its last week of trading.

All staff have been furloughed and he hopes the government won’t pull the plug on its wage support scheme too soon. Fox said there could be trepidation about reopening if there is not widespread public confidence in the safety of starting to visit restaurants, pubs and cafes again.

Peerie Shop owner Emma Gibson, which also closed in line with government guidance, said the timing was very unfortunate as the summer months make up for quieter times of year in staff-heavy businesses such as hers.

Some hotels and restaurants are offering a hot food delivery service, including Da Steakhouse and C’est La Vie in Lerwick, Busta and – on Fridays – St Magnus Bay Hotel. Others have closed completely during the lockdown. 

  • Government support schemes are available to help some businesses and SFAD is keen to support any members that have so far not been eligible for assistance. SFAD can be contacted by emailing shetlandfoodanddrink@gmail.com.

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