Guest column: Colin Smith – Loving local

Food and drink provenance is a key topic on the lips in Scotland and Scottish Wholesale Association (SWA) Chief Executive Colin Smith is leading the movement to help wholesalers play their part

Local sourcing and the importance of supporting local food and drink producers is nothing new, but here in Scotland we’ve taken it to a whole new level through the SWA’s local sourcing, training and education strategy.

Despite the pandemic, wholesalers and producers have really got behind our initiative to build local sourcing opportunities. While currently focused on helping Scotland’s food and drink recovery from the series of lockdowns and other Covid restrictions, this ambitious project seeks to help SWA members and the wider wholesale sector engage with more local producers and help them access new markets.

The seeds of the project were sown pre-pandemic during discussions with Scotland Food & Drink when we spoke about how smaller producers were missing out on lucrative sales opportunities due to lack of understanding about the wholesale channel and a focus primarily on retail.

This led to SWA staging an exhibition with Scotland Food & Drink at our conference in 2019, providing a group of producers with access to wholesalers they hadn’t previously engaged with.

Taking this to the next level and in partnership with SAOS and Scotland Food & Drink, the SWA’s Delivering Growth Through Wholesale local sourcing and supply chain training programme was fully launched this January.

The programme, comprising high-profile individuals from national and regional wholesale businesses across Scotland, has created two comprehensive workshops – producer and wholesale – along with bespoke support material and free access to a one-to-one mentor for those taking part in the workshops.

Our workshops help producers fully understand wholesale and wholesalers – and the benefit of working with local producers. They look at the different routes within the wholesale channel, understanding how and where new products fit within wholesalers’ markets, as well as the pricing and support strategies producers need to consider, plus how creating joint business plans from the outset helps both parties de-risk and assess success.


A survey conducted by the SWA last year showed that members’ local/Scottish food offering is typically around 30%. Our goal is to increase that by working with wholesalers and producers to diversify into new markets, particularly as we emerge from the pandemic.

The fact our current workshops for producers are oversubscribed and our recent wholesaler workshop had to be extended to accommodate demand confirms this project is striking a chord with both – and that’s a very exciting place to be.

With the project aligned to Scotland’s recovery action plans, the creation of a forthcoming SWA centrally managed directory of wholesalers will help producers and suppliers identify the wholesalers that best fit their capabilities and ambitions.

A Meet the Wholesaler event in March will provide a face-to-face opportunity for producers and wholesalers to put what they’ve learned in the workshops into action and help us achieve our objective to distribute more local goods on to the shelves of Scotland’s 5,000 convenience stores and on to plates in the 30,000 hospitality, tourism and leisure outlets.

Winning in wholesale doesn’t have to be difficult – it just needs to be more collaborative and projects such as this help our sector become resilient to challenges and get us ready to capitalise on new opportunities.

Colin Smith food provenance SWA