SCOTLAND’S local food economy is enjoying an unprecedented boost as consumers seek alternatives to the supermarkets, focusing on home delivery and convenience retail amid wellbeing concerns, according to a senior food and drink expert.

Adam Hardie, partner and head of food and drink at Johnston Carmichael, Scotland’s largest independent accountancy and business advisory firm, hosted a series of webinars with food and drink leaders from across Scotland. He said: “Direct-to-consumer sales, known in the industry as D2C and by everyone else as good old-fashioned home deliveries, are off the chart right now. It may have been forced on some businesses from necessity, but the pace and scale of this change has been astonishing. Some of our clients have experienced a tripling of turnover.

“Some consumers turned away from supermarkets because of the fear of social distancing but it is clear that something much bigger is going on. What we are seeing is a much greater focus on community and sustainability. Demand for local, healthy produce that minimises waste and food miles is soaring. People have also realised that by supporting local businesses they are also supporting their neighbourhoods.”

The webinar sessions, based on existing quarterly events, examined the impact of coronavirus on the industry, discussing new areas of opportunity such as D2C and encouraging greater collaboration between business owners. Hardie, who is also chairman of the Scottish Gin Awards and a judge at the Scottish Beer Awards – added: “There’s long been concerns over supermarkets squeezing suppliers on price. The Big Four (Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons) could struggle in the future, while the two big discounters, Aldi and Lidl, will grow.

“It’s great to see so many Scottish food and drink producers becoming disruptors, but I’d urge companies seeking to adopt D2C to ensure they have thoroughly tested their plans.

“Avoiding conflict with retail and existing channels, whilst investing in a social media plan are crucial to achieving success and developing strong customer loyalty. Businesses should speak to their advisers about the options open to them.”

Among the businesses which have stepped up their D2C salesis distiller Eden Mill, based outside St Andrews. It has introduced virtual gin tasting experiences which include a sample box that can be purchased online, with its first such event selling out.

Graham’s The Family Dairy, based in Bridge of Allan, has seen a threefold increase in doorstep orders after expanding their service to include milk, including Gold Top, as well as eggs, cream, butter and Skyr.

Johnston Carmichael said it will host further webinars covering sectors ranging from professional services to technology.