Scoop Wholefoods: dealing with lockdown & looking forward to expanding...10 June 2020
The last ten weeks have posed challenges of different magnitudes to every food-and-drink business in Shetland. Some have been forced to close altogether while others have enjoyed a spike in demand, but those able to continue trading have had to adapt quite abruptly to unfamiliar ways of working.
One such business is Scoop Wholefoods in Lerwick, which has managed to adjust its operation to the unexpected new reality in typically sure-footed fashion.
As a health food shop it could, under lockdown rules, legitimately have kept its doors open as normal in recent weeks. But co-owners Ann Johnson and Kristen Williamson concluded its floor space was so limited that doing so safely was impractical. Instead they opted for a pre-order system which, after a little fine-tuning, is now working very well.
“We kind of thought our shop was a bit peerie to do social distancing, so to be safer for everyone we thought we’d just take orders on the phone, Facebook and the website,” says Kirsten.
“It’s really easy because folk can just place their order and pay for it over the phone, then we just give them a time slot and they pick it up outside, so it’s there is no contact needed hardly any contact at all.
“We miss seeing our customers in the shop – it’s not the same without them! It doesn’t feel like a shop when you’re not seeing customers, it’s almost more like mail order.”
The business has not needed to resort to the UK Government’s furlough scheme for wages and has created a Scoop “bubble” whereby staff are careful to minimise their contacts to minimise the risk of catching Coronavirus.
Ann has been running Scoop, which employs three full time staff and 12 altogether including part-timers, since taking it over 26 years ago. She was recently joined as a partner in the business by Kirsten, who was several years from even being born when the wholefoods shop hopped across town from King Harald Street to its current location at the Toll Clock.
The business first started life in Papa Stour, then moved to Sandness and onto Lerwick. It sourced produce including flour, spices, pulses and muesli along with jams sweetened with fruit juice rather than added sugar, non-mass market peanut butters and ethically-sourced chocolate – product lines now considered de rigueur but “totally ahead of its time” in the 1980s.
Regular customers will not be in the least surprised that Kirsten, who joined the shop after leaving school six years ago, has taken on a greater level of involvement. Scoop has long prided itself on a meticulous attention to detail and a consistently high level of customer service through unfailingly friendly and helpful staff.
This summer the business will complete what is quite literally the shortest possible flit next door to what was the Planticrub shop, meaning staff can continue using the existing storeroom while enjoying the added floorspace of the “half as big again” new premises.
Ann describes herself as an eternal optimist but has had to concede her tentative initial date for opening probably won’t be realised. While the lockdown has not derailed their plans, it has slowed up access to the requisite flooring, fixtures and fittings – but the new shop should be ready sometime this summer.
It has also enabled them to take social distancing measures into account when planning the layout.
Always passionate about creating an ecologically-sound retail experience, earlier this year Scoop introduced a refill station with around 40 products including oats, pasta, rice and pulses.
Coronavirus has put paid to that for now and once the new shop is in place Ann expects they will initially have to offer loose goods in brown paper bags rather than allowing folk to bring their own containers.
They will of course be guided by government guidelines when the time comes to open. Ann and Kirsten are looking at whether a one-way entry/exit system, stickers on the floor and the possibility of Perspex screens and face masks – “all things that we’ll have to finalise”.
Towards the end of each lockdown week the staff find themselves “flying around the shop” to fulfil orders – fresh local veg has “flown out the door”, while eggs and daily deliveries of fresh bread have also done a brisk trade, and not forgetting Katja’s Cakes’ signature apple pies!
Ann and Kirsten would be “delighted” to hear from any more local producers interested in being stocked alongside Scoop’s extensive existing range of Shetland goodies.
In recent years, Ann has noticed many people have an increasing appetite for food made and grown in their own community. What does she attribute that to? “I think it’s a greater appreciation of how much better it tastes, the length of time it lasts, fresh out of the ground and onto the shelves – it’s not sitting in a truck for several days – and how important it is to support your local economy.”
The spring lockdown has also seen folk flocking back to the network of invaluable small independent local shops all around the islands, and Ann hopes that will continue once restrictions are eased.
“We have a lot of country shops that take goods from us, and that’s working really well. I would love to see everybody really working together, and that cafes and restaurants would be looking at as much local produce as they can get too,” she adds.