OPENING a bag of newly bought salad leaves to find an unpleasant hint of slime, or finding those beautiful purple plums you bought as a healthy treat never “ripen at home” but instead turn into a fusty mush after a week of stubborn rock-hard tastelessness, is an increasingly common experience.
This wasteful disappointment takes on a sharper edge as the cost of living crisis puts a tighter squeeze on our budgets. The cost of groceries continues to soar. Last month, Kantar reported food inflation was at 14.7%, a rate last seen when Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Government was in power 42 years ago.
This month, the rate has crept higher yet and now is at 16.4%. While government ministers in London argue this is a result of Covid and Putin’s war in Ukraine, they give no explanation for why the UK economy is performing worse than the other G7 nations.
The elephant on the side of the bus is, of course, Brexit. A shortage of drivers from Europe and lengthy delays at ports means the shelf life of imported foods can be significantly shortened.
The logistics of feeding a nation is an enormous task. Mark Murphy, part of the Dole Food Group, is Scotland’s largest fresh produce food service provider, supplying hospitality outlets and local authorities with a keen eye on quality.
Marketing manager Ernie Miller explains: “Wherever it is possible, we support and use local Scottish businesses, but we have the backing of a global brand; we’re local at heart, global by nature – which means we have the best of both worlds.
“We have strong logistical lines of supply bringing in up to 100 pallets a day, so we have a very high turnover, strong quality controls and very experienced staff.”
Ernie points to the importance of good communication in ensuring fresh and ripe food reaches Scotland’s kitchens.
“We listen to our growers to be sure we are buying the best of produce and keep our customers informed so they have plenty of time to plan their menus,” he says.
“Traceability, provenance and standards really matter. It might be cheaper to get produce in from overseas, but we think it’s important to develop sustainable Scottish businesses and we work with a lot of small local companies.
“Our farmers work incredibly hard to get the freshest of food on to people’s plates.” Ernie has some tips to help shoppers find the best fresh fruit and vegetables.
“Try to eat seasonally and, where possible, try to source Scottish produce,” he says. “Supermarkets aren’t the be all and end all, there are lots of other options. Farmers’ markets and local veg box schemes often offer good quality and value for money – and you are keeping money in the local economy!”
Reuben Chesters is the founder and managing director of Locavore CIC, a social supermarket and veg box delivery service working to create meaningful alternatives for shoppers in the Central Belt.
Locavore grew out of a community garden project. The vision was to open shops which made healthy, fresh food available to everyone.
When the team realised there was nowhere to buy the produce they wanted to sell, they looked back to the land and began partnering with farmers, most recently supporting a grower on the outskirts of Glasgow to convert 25 acres to organic.
“We decided to buy from farmers switching to organic from day one to help make that transition possible,” Reuben explains.
“It’s really important to me that organic is available to everyone. Supermarkets seem to see organic as a premium product rather than the norm, that’s not the way it’s seen across most of Europe.
“We’re almost always cheaper for organic than the supermarkets. We buy from local businesses, and we sell with a smaller margin, so the producers get a better deal from us than they do the supermarkets.
“All of our food is sold loose, so people only buy what they need, and it is so fresh: it’s on the shelves the day after it’s picked.
“We also have ‘The Good Food Fund’, which is a pay-it-forward scheme to help make the produce accessible to more people.”
It has been a rollercoaster year for the community enterprise. This month, Locavore was the winner of the BBC’s Food and Farming Awards prize for the “Best Shop or Market”.
Several days later, it announced the closure of one of its five shops, part of a plan to consolidate the business and weather the economic storm hitting the UK.
“We have been heavily impacted by the cost of living crisis, so we’re working to make sure we have a stable base to grow from when the time is right. What we want to achieve and why we exist is more important than ever,” Reuben says.
“We need to grow more of our food in Scotland to develop food resilience. Locavore is creating sustainable farm to fork connections which work for growers and the people in our communities.”
A crowdfunder to support Locavore is being launched.
Ruth Watson is the founder of the “Keep Scotland the Brand” campaign.